EYE SPY: Eyewear is showing more resiliency than some other luxury products as Italian companies in the sector reported growth both in terms of sales and profitability for 2002. Safilo, which late last year won contracts to produce Giorgio Armani eyewear, said its profit for the year ended Dec. 31, 2002, rose 12 percent to $150.8 million, while sales advanced 6 percent to $962.8 million. Dollar figures are converted from the euro at current exchange rates. "In 2003, we intend to further consolidate our leadership in luxury eyewear and, at the same time, boost the steady growth that we have enjoyed in recent years," said Safilo chief Vittorio Tabacchi.

Despite a 7.7 percent contraction in fourth-quarter sales, industry leader Luxottica saw its 2002 net profit rise 17.6 percent to $400.7 million, while revenue grew 2.2 percent to $3.37 billion. Marcolin said strong sales of Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli eyewear lifted its 2002 net profit to $2.1 million from $753,830, while revenue rose eight percent to $179.6 million. Meanwhile, De Rigo, which has yet to release profit figures, saw its 2002 revenue climb 1.4 percent to $552 million despite a 2.8 percent decline in Prada brand eyewear sales to $33.6 million. — Amanda Kaiser

POOR STATE OF MIND: War worries are clearly taking their toll on consumer confidence in the U.K. SPSL, which monitors customer traffic and consumer behavioral patterns in Europe, said retail traffic in the first quarter was down 2.8 percent year-on-year — and fell by 6.6 percent in the month of March. "Consumers seem to be in a state of abeyance, uncertain of the ramifications to their pockets of the costs of the ongoing war," said Dr. Tim Denison, director of knowledge management at SPSL. "They are postponing any sustained shopping sprees just now, though the potential for spring growth is there." Good weather played a part during the last week of March, however. In that week, retail traffic rose 7.4 percent over the previous week, thanks to mid-season sales and U.K. Mother’s Day on March 30, SPSL said. — Ellen Burney

CHECKERED STREETS: Acting to stem several years of declining sales, French discount chain Tati inaugurated a new retail concept in Paris that it hopes will put fresh wind in its sails. Located in a shopping center at Place de l’Italie, the 10,000-square-foot store goes by the name "La Rue est a Nous," or "The Street Belongs to Us." "It’s made to look like a bazaar," explained Tati managing director Christian Raillard. "The merchandising is very organized. For us, this is a big step in giving Tati new energy." Assembling all of its concepts under one roof is a departure for Tati, whose signature stores are known for their rag-tag merchandising in bins.Over the last 10 years, discount chains in France have suffered as hypermarkets such as Carrefour have expanded aggressively. Tati’s sales dropped to $160 million last year from about $176 million in 2001. "Low-price retailing has grown very competitive in France," said Raillard. "The only way to carve out a space now is with new, innovative concepts."

Designed by Paris agency Dragon Rouge, the new store boasts an awning in Tati’s signature pink and white check at the entrance, suggesting an outdoor market. Inside, each Tati concept occupies a separate corner, including Tati Marriage wedding apparel and accessories, and Tati Or, with watches and jewelry. Women’s jeans retail for about $15, while combat-inspired skirts and tops retail around $10 to $20. Tati has plans to open a similar concept store on Paris’ Right Bank in late May. Raillard projects first-year sales for the new unit of about $11 million. "These first two units are tests," said Raillard. "If they work, and the early indications are that they will, then we will eventually revamp all of our stores with the concept." — Robert Murphy

PLAYING DRESS UP: Consider it a virtual "mini-me." French mail-order giant La Redoute is now offering its online customers the chance to try spring fashions on their virtual selves — a first for a European company. Shoppers at Laredoute.com enter their height, weight, body type, hair color — even the shape of their eyes, nose and mouth — and can then get dressed. "Customers have the opportunity to virtually try on items they may never have dared try on before," explained Olivier Clair, La Redoute’s Internet marketing manager. "Customers are already demanding more items." At the moment, shoppers have a choice of only 16 selected items, including hipster jeans and skimpy tops. But they can pivot the mini-me to show every angle of the fit. Since the site was launched March 21, some 30,000 customers have taken advantage of the feature. Clair said La Redoute, a subsidiary of retail and luxury group Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, plans to expand the program to men this fall. — Emilie Marsh

BIDDERS’ WAR: A recent profit warning has done little to dampen interest in Austin Reed, the classic British men’s and women’s wear brand. Last month, the Glasgow-based retailer Slater Menswear approached Austin Reed with an all-cash offer for the company. Since then, shares in the publicly-quoted company have shot up by 26 percent and — surprise — other potential bidders have emerged. "We’ve been receiving many phone calls from interested parties," said a company spokeswoman. Although she declined to confirm names, the bidders are said to include Italian fashion group Marzotto and Richard Thompson, the entrepreneur who earlier this year bought, and then sold, the Jaeger and Viyella brands. Marzotto declined to comment, and Thompson could not be reached for comment. Austin Reed issued a profit warning in mid-January regarding the company’s 2002 results, which will be issued this week. — E.B.

READER’S DIGEST: French supermarket and variety store chain Monoprix, jointly owned by Galeries Lafayette and Casino, will have a surprising new product on its shelves next week: a magazine. But it’s not your standard catalog. Instead, Monoprix clothes and foodstuffs are given the soft sell in an effort to build relationships with its customers. For example, mothers and daughters model its spring fashions — but next to lifestyle tips and anecdotes. The 116-page magazine sells for about $2. It is slated to come out three times a year. — E.M.

FAREWELL FIORUCCI: A storied retail landmark in Milan is giving way to a new arrival with big aspirations in the bel paese. After 36 years of bringing kitschy and cheeky fashion to Milan, Fiorucci is shuttering its door this July and handing over its space to the first Hennes & Mauritz in Italy. As reported, H&M said it plans to open its first Italian unit on Corso Vittorio Emanuele in September. Founded by Elio Fiorucci in the swinging Sixties, the flagship is a magnet for tourists and teenagers. But Fiorucci said he’s not slowing down, instead joining forces with Olivero Toscani, the former brain behind Benetton’s controversial advertising campaigns. The two are set to open a creative think tank in Tuscany. Meanwhile, Fiorucci said it is keeping its Verona store open. — A.K.

BURANI RESULTS: Mariella Burani Fashion Group reported a 96.1 percent increase in net income to $12.3 million in 2002, up from $6.3 million the previous year. Group sales rose 23.5 percent to $298.8 million from $241.8 million in 2001. The company attributed the growth to an integration and rationalization of production. — Luisa Zargani

ASPESI STAKE: Giuliano Tabacchi’s holding company 2G Investimenti has bought 50 percent of Italian sportswear company Alberto Aspesi. Tabacchi is the brother of Safilo chief executive Vittorio Tabacchi and exited the family’s eyewear business a few years ago. In September, Aspesi signed a six-year licensing agreement with Lawrence Steele for the production and distribution of all his products. Aspesi also produces apparel for Comme des Garçons. — A.K.

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