BLUE CHRISTMAS: There will be fewer gifts under European Christmas trees this year, according to a study by the Deloitte & Touche consulting firm in Paris. Holiday spending is expected to be weakest in France, where those polled said they would spend 31 percent less on presents this year than last year. In Germany and Ireland, consumers are expected to spend 24 percent less, while in Belgium, a 16 percent decline is expected. The average European household is expected to spend $461, or 394 euros, for holiday gifts this year, against $522, or 446 euros, last year. The French said they would allocate $369, or 315 euros, against $545, or 466 euros, last year. In Ireland, traditionally home of Europe’s most generous gift-givers, $1,247, or 1,066 euros, on average will be spent for Christmas per household. Deloitte's study, conducted via Internet, solicited opinions from 4,788 people. Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange. — Robert Murphy

Alberta Ferretti is the newest addition to the hot Paris Rue Saint-Honoré shopping strip, where stores from Helmut Lang and Escada have recently bowed. The 1,700-square-foot, two-level unit is the Italian house's first stand-alone store in France. It features Ferretti's signature line on the ground level, while the secondary Philosophy line hangs on the second floor. Minimalist and bright, the boutique was designed by David Ling with limestone floors and cream walls. Each step in the curving staircase is lit from below; the first floor resembles a mini-theater, with a sunk-in center and illuminated benches used to merchandise knitwear and accessories. Ferretti operates 10 other shops around the world, including Tokyo, London, Milan and New York.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Shanghai Tang has arrived. Its 4,000-square-foot, two-level store, at 76 rue Bonaparte in the upscale Saint Germain neighborhood, is its first in the City of Light. Besides the usual panoply of Chinese-themed clothing for men, women and children, the store also sells home items. There is a tea room, and clients wishing to organize a trip to China may book a ticket at the on-site travel agent. — R.M.

Tom Singh, founder of the U.K. high street retail chain New Look, will not be upping his offer for the company until the New Year. Sources said Singh was less than impressed with the retailer’s six-month figures, and wants to see how Christmas trading goes. As reported, Singh, whose family already owns 28 percent of the firm, increased his offer in October to $5.91, or 3.48 pounds, valuing the company at about $1.19 billion.Although New Look’s sales increased 6.2 percent to $568 million, or 334.5 million pounds, for the 26 weeks to Sept. 27, U.K. like-for-like sales plummeted 3.6 percent, following an 8.7 percent rise in the same period last year. Dollar figures have been converted from the pound at current exchange. New Look is the U.K.’s third-largest women’s wear retailer and has more than 700 stores in the U.K. and France. The latest flagship opened on Oxford Street in late August. — Ellen Burney

Italy’s Mariella Burani fashion group lifted its nine-month profit and sales figures by diversifying into new products and markets. Pretax profit for the period ended Sept. 30 more than doubled to $23.8 million, or 20.3 million euros, from $10.3 million, or 8.8 million euros, the year before. Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange. Sales grew 38.5 percent to $328.29 million, or 279.8 million euros, from $236.9 million, or 201.9 million euros. The company’s apparel sales advanced by 32.7 percent through organic growth as well as the consolidation of recently acquired German group Rene Lezard Mode GmbH. Revenue from the leather goods division rose 56.5 percent, boosted by the recent acquisition of Biasia Francesco SpA. Burani has recently focused on developing markets like Eastern Europe and Russia, which together generate more than 13 percent of the group’s revenue. — Amanda Kaiser

Calzaturificio Mafra Srl, controlled by Mariella Burani Fashion Group and the LVMH investment fund L Capital, acquired footwear firm Andrea Pfister for $1.8 million (converted from 1.5 million euros at current exchange) from financially troubled Fin.part. Pfister, known for his couture-like shoe designs, had sold his brand to the group Fin.part in January 2000. “I’m very happy now and hard at work,” said an upbeat Pfister in a phone interview. Pfister said he’d also be keen to design shoes for the other Burani group brands, which include Mila Schön, Braccialini, Baldinini and Francesco Biasia. The group is listed on the Milan stock exchange. Chief executive Giovanni Burani said he plans to expand the Pfister label into handbags. On the retail front, the Pfister boutique on Milan’s tony Via Montenapoleone will be replaced by a Sebastian store, produced by Mafra, next spring, when Burani also plans to open a Francesco Biasia boutique on the same street.— Luisa ZarganiRACING AHEAD: French fast-fashion group Vivarte is already making ambitious resolutions for the New Year. Notwithstanding the anticipated sale of the group to outside investors, Vivarte said it plans to invest $118.8 million, or 100 million euros, in store openings in 2004, stepping the pace up to 120 store openings a year compared with 46 stores in fiscal 2002/2003. The Vivarte group, which includes Andre, La Halle, Caroll, Parti-Prix and Kookai chains, reported a 10.4 percent increase in net profits to $89.7 million, or 75.5 million euros, from $81.3 million, or 68.4 million euros, in the year-earlier period. Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange. For the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, Vivarte’s annual sales slowed 2.2 percent to $2.28 billion from $2.33 billion the previous year.— Emilie Marsh

England’s win at the Rugby World Cup last month spelled a loss for retail sales.

In November, sales slumped 10 percent compared with the same period last year, according to the retail monitor FootFall. The organization, which follows 120 shopping centers across the U.K., blamed the drop on increased TV viewing during Saturday's final match against Australia and the celebrations that followed. “The fact that England won such a monumental game, gave all those watching a reason to celebrate, which in itself took many away from shops,” the company said in a statement. Meanwhile, retail traffic index figures produced by SPSL, which monitors customer traffic and behavior patterns in Europe, were just as grim. The company expects the overall fall in November to be 1.7 percent from last year, with a small revival expected for December. “The start of November has been quieter than originally anticipated,” said Tim Denison, a director at SPSL. He said reasons might include a falloff in consumer confidence after a recent interest rate rise and a wait-and-see attitude among Christmas shoppers. — Nina Jones

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