MOSCOW NOW: Continuing its march into new markets, Louis Vuitton Friday officially inaugurated its first location in Moscow. The 4,300-square-foot, two-level location is located near the famous Bolshoi theater and brings the number of stores Vuitton operates in 51 countries across the globe to 302. It also marks a first step into yet another potentially explosive luxury goods market. Earlier this month, Vuitton inaugurated its first store in New Delhi, India. — Robert Murphy

MOVING ON UP: Galeries Lafayette in Berlin, operating in the red since bowing in 1996, is hoping designer labels will help reverse its fortunes. The department store acknowledges it goofed by initially focusing on private labels not well known outside of its home market of France. Now the women’s department boasts such brands as Hugo Boss Woman, Paul & Joe and Kenzo Jungle. Accessories shops from Burberry, Celine, Givenchy and Loewe bowed last week on the main floor. Men’s and women’s Armani and Versace shops are slated to open in the fall. The store’s repositioning efforts are slated to be complete next year.

Meanwhile, another department store’s foray in the designer world is proving controversial. The mid-market Kaufhof store group announced it’s introducing Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino Roma and Gianfranco Ferré Studio brands, but the designer firms say they have no idea how Kaufhof came upon the merchandise it is currently advertising and selling in 21 of its 81 Galeria branches as part of a repositioning effort. A Kauhauf spokeswoman described the merchandise as "regular goods purchased through regular channels."

But the brands are crying foul. Dolce & Gabbana fired off a letter to its German retail clients, saying it has no business ties with the store and would investigate the origin of the goods. Officials at Valentino Roma and Ferré also are looking into the situation, with Valentino initiating legal action. But Kauhauf said it plans to expand its Italian designer offerings to 40 of its Galeria units. — Melissa Drier

BANKER BLUES: Tod’s chief executive Diego Della Valle is continuing to invest outside the fashion world. Through a family holding company, Della Valle and his brother, Andrea, bought 2.8 percent of Italy’s Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. Della Valle did not disclose how much was paid for the shares, but analysts value the stake between $80 million and $85 million. Dollar figures are converted from the euro at current exchange rates. Della Valle characterized the investment as "a demonstration of faith" in Italy’s economy. Last August, Della Valle bought control of A.C. Fiorentina, the cash-strapped Florence-based soccer team. — Courtney ColavitaVIVA ITALIA: Opera is getting ready for an encore. The Bulgari-led private-equity fund is aiming to raise a fresh $269.5 million in capital by the end of 2003 and early 2004. "Opera II," like the original fund, targets companies in Italian lifestyle sectors such as interior design, furnishings, fashion and food. Opera already has made a foray into luxury goods over the last couple of years, snapping up control of watchmaker Sector and shoemaker Bruno Magli, but Opera co-founder and managing partner Renato Preti says fashion isn’t the fund’s number one priority right now as prices are too high and the competition too intense. Opera is focusing more on the home design front. Although Opera’s talks with linen company Frette appear to have stalled. "We believe that in the next years, the positive environment for private equity will continue benefiting from low market evaluations," Preti said. — Amanda Kaiser

DOLL FACE: Leave it to the French to give a fashion makeover to an American classic. Some 100 fashion and jewelry houses — from Chloé to Boucheron — whipped up dresses and jewels for the iconic Barbie doll for a presentation in Paris last week. Dolls were positioned on a miniature runway in a mock fashion show, with others, dripping with miniature diamond jewels, lounged in chairs watching the spectacle. But it was not all about fun and games. The dolls will be sold at auction in Paris to raise funds for the French Red Cross. Meanwhile, they will make a world tour, stopping for an exhibit May 8-20 in Tokyo, and Monaco July 14-Sept. 15. The dolls will remain on show in Paris, at the Hotel de Retz, through April 25. — E.M.

HOLDING PATTERN: Antwerp’s year-old Mode Museum will explore fashion’s nitty-gritty in an exhibit running April 24-August 10. Titled Patterns, the show features design blueprints of 22 designers — from Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent to Yohji Yamamoto and Hubert de Givenchy — used in creating some of their most spectacular clothes. Meanwhile, a parallel show will spotlight photographer Nicole Tran Ba Vang’s work. — R.M.

RUSSIAN TEEN ROOM: Russian Elle has reached out to its rapidly Westernizing teens with the launch last month of Russian Elle Girl. And with Russian Fashion Week just wrapping up, the timing couldn’t be better. The premier March issue boasts 148 pages, including 35 pages of advertising. Canadian singer Avril Lavigne graces the cover and reveals in an article inside how she created her own image. Other features include "225 great fashion and beauty ideas," an article on the group, Sugar Babes, and another on "boys which make us lose our minds." Elle Girl will release its next issue in May and is slated to come out monthly starting in September. Russian Elle Girl is the sixth edition published by Hachette Filipacchi after American, English, Quebecois, Dutch and Korean editions. — Emilie MarshTRADE UNDRESS: Plans for Italy’s new innerwear and beachwear trade fair, Un-dress, are taking shape. To be staged at Milan’s fairgrounds, Un-dress runs Sept. 14-16, a week after Lyon’s Mode City in France, and is gunning to attract some 20,000 buyers and 100 exhibitors. Trade show organizer Expo Cts is striving to differentiate Un-dress from other fairs by staging a series of innerwear and swimwear fashion shows during the three-day event. Meanwhile, Un-dress is already plotting a second edition for January on the heels of Paris’ Interfiliere. — A.K.

FORWARD MARCH: French fast-fashion firm Naf Naf on Friday reported 2002 sales increased 9.4 percent to $281.2 million, compared with $257 million in 2001. The firm, controlled by brothers Patrick and Gerard Pariente, said sales jumped 15 percent to $138.7 million in their network of 140 shops in France. Meanwhile, in Naf Naf’s 20 stores elsewhere in Europe, sales increased 21 percent to $13.8 million. Wholesale sales in France declined 1 percent to $72.3 million. Outside of France, however, wholesale sales rose 9 percent to $56.3 million. — R.M.

BOON FOR U.K. SMALL BUSINESSES: In his budget announcement last week, British Chancellor Gordon Brown offered small businesses here a package of American-style investment incentives aimed at boosting the venture capital sector and increasing the financing available to company start-ups. Special incentives intended to encourage research and development by small- and medium-sized companies also were announced. However, experts said these incentives would largely be offset by other new taxes that will increase the costs of doing business in the U.K. "There’s no real meat in here — any fiddling that’s been done [to improve the climate for small businesses] will be totally swamped by the increase in National Insurance contributions," observed Mike Warburton, a tax partner at Grant Thornton.

At the same time, many Americans and other foreign nationals who live here but avoid U.K. taxes by claiming to be "non-domiciled" heard the unwelcome — if not entirely original — news that the government intends to review the rules governing their status. Threats to crack down on non-domiciles have been made by previous governments, but have never been carried out, owing to concerns that such actions might drive away an important pool of foreign wealth, talent and enterprise. And it is for this reason that few tax experts think this government is likely to be in a genuine hurry itself to tamper with the current arrangement. — Samantha ContiPIRELLI’S PURSUIT: Prada could wind up paying rent to Pirelli. Pirelli & C. Real Estate, a unit of tires to telecommunications conglomerate, is eyeing about $107.92 million (converted from euros at the current exchange rates) worth of real estate that the debt-laden fashion group has earmarked for sale, according to a source close to the talks. These assets include Prada’s corporate headquarters in Milan and a series of industrial sites in and around the city. The source said Prada wants to generate quick cash from a sale and then pay rent back to the new owner. "Nothing’s been finalized," said a Prada spokesman. Prada has been looking at ways to rid itself of $831 million in debt after three failed attempts at an initial public offer. Elsewhere, an unconfirmed press report has Italian bank Sanpaolo IMI increasing Prada’s credit lines by $21.6 million. — A.K.

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