VERONIQUE’S CLOSET: Véronique Branquinho will soon have a space of her own for her growing business. The Belgian designer is set to open her first freestanding store. The flagship is slated to bow on Nationalestraat in Antwerp this August. Designed by B-Architecten Studio, the store will carry both her women’s and recently launched men’s collections. Branquinho said the late Sixties aesthetic of the space would be preserved. “The atmosphere will be very intimate and warm,” Branquinho said. “The customer has to feel at ease, comfortable and relaxed.” — Courtney Colavita

UP AND AWAY: Vivarte, the French fashion group, said net income in the first half jumped 15 percent to $42.4 million, versus $36.9 million in the year-earlier period. Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange. Meanwhile, sales in the half, from September to February, declined 1.2 percent to $1.07 billion, compared with $1.09 billion a year earlier. Vivarte, formerly known as Groupe Andre, runs fast-fashion chains Kookai and La Halle Vetements, as well as shoe retailers Andre and Minelli, among other brands. The group has undergone major changes since the beginning of the year, shuffling top management and bringing in financier Nathaniel Rothschild as president. Management changes have also been made at many of the group’s top brands. The group expects a like profit performance in the second half. — Robert Murphy

CHERRY FACTORY: Claude Arpels is expected to sign a production agreement with Cherrygrove to manufacture his Borbonese and Alessandro Dell’Acqua lines, starting with the spring-summer 2004 collections. “This is one of the rare companies that is skilled in producing both knitwear and ready-to-wear,” Arpels said in a phone interview. His family acquired Borbonese in 2000 and Dell’Acqua last January. Cherrygrove, based in Vignola, Emilia, near Bologna, is the new name of the bankrupt Nadini manufacturing company, which used to produce the Fendi and Gianfranco Ferré lines. Arpels also said that he has asked fashion insiders Dawn Mello and Marvin Traub to consult on the Borbonese and Redwall lines and help build their distribution in the U.S. — Luisa Zargani

ARMANI-ENGLAND KICKOFF: England’s hunky soccer team will hit the runway at London’s Luton airport tonight — literally — dressed for the first time in Giorgio Armani. The squad is flying to South Africa for an historic, friendly match against the country’s national team.As reported, Armani signed a three-year deal, said to be brokered by England captain — and notorious fashion plate — David Beckham, to dress England’s national team.

On Monday night, England’s athletes will be wearing classic navy blue cotton suits with two-button jackets, low-waisted, flat-front trousers and gray button-down cotton shirts with dark blue-gray iridescent silk ties.

“Footballers today are the modern day gladiators — they have become icons on and off the field,” said Armani.

Armani’s professional relationship with the soccer world began in 1994, when he dressed the Italian national team. He later created the wardrobe for Newcastle United and for the Italian squad Piacenza, his hometown team. He also dresses England’s Chelsea squad.

In 1996, Armani hired David James, then of the Liverpool team, as a catwalk and advertising model. He has also dressed Real Madrid’s Ronaldo and Luis Figo and Inter Milan’s Christian Vieri and Fabio Cannavaro for formal occasions. — Ellen Burney

AN EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: Most consumers in the U.S. probably have never heard of Biella, let alone know that it’s the purveyor of some of the world’s finest wools and cashmere. That’s about to change, according to the Biella Industrial Union. In an attempt to further differentiate and highlight fabrics and yarns produced in and around the town an hour northwest of Milan, the trade union is launching a Biella trademark. Biella: The Art Of Excellence should start accompanying garments made entirely from Biella fabrics or yarns, which pass special guidelines, in about a month. The trade union hopes the label will raise consumer awareness and help combat increasing Asian competition and a diminishing market share. “A person should have the tools to know the difference between a fashion label, which uses fabrics made in China, verses a fashion label that uses Biella fabrics,” said Ermanno Rondi, president of the union. “If they still prefer the Chinese fabrics, fine, that’s their choice, but at least they should know the difference.” The union plans to spend about $2 million a year advertising the new trademark, targeting in-flight magazines. It was too early to learn how many companies would decide to utilize it. — C.C.

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