WAVING THE FLAG: Tommy Hilfiger is charging ahead in Spain. Its first flagship — and third Spanish store — opened in Barcelona late last month. The two-level location on Paseo de Gracia, considered the Catalan capital’s “golden mile” of retail, spans 5,700 square feet. It carries a full range of Hilfiger’s women’s, men’s and children’s wear, accessories, fragrance and denim. A live DJ plays in the jeans department every Saturday night. In May, Hilfiger rolled out its first Spanish unit in Madrid’s Xanadu leisure-retail complex and two weeks later, a second store opened in Marbella on the Costa del Sol. No more Spanish stores are planned this year, according to a spokeswoman, but she hinted at the possibility of a Madrid flagship in 2004. — Barbara Barker

In an ongoing bid to stem losses, the U.K. fashion and home furnishings company Laura Ashley Holdings plc said it would sell its operations in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands to Laben Holding BV for about $2.20, a token amount converted from the euro at current exchange. A statement said Laben would enter a single, renewable franchise agreement with Laura Ashley for the 11 stores in the three countries. For the year ended Jan. 25, the businesses being disposed of posted a turnover of $10.7 million and a pretax loss of $3.5 million, converted from the British pound at current exchange. Since January, the group has closed 33 stores. Four of Laura Ashley’s six French stores are expected to close by November, while the remaining two will be sold to franchise partners. The company also said it was in negotiations to sell six stores in Switzerland, Austria and Italy to EDMI Holdings SA. Those stores will also be converted into franchises. — Samantha Conti

Harrods upped the luxury ante last week when it put Monet’s “La Mer Vue des Falaises” (“Sea Seen from the Cliffs”) in one of its window displays with about a $1.8 million price tag. Harrods is displaying the painting in conjunction with the Halcyon Gallery in a bid to make art more accessible to the public. The exhibition, which runs until Oct. 18, features more than 700 works worth a total of $40 million by Renoir, Picasso, Warhol and emerging artists, too. For those customers who do not have seven-figure sums to spare, the exhibition offers works with prices starting at about $640. — Henry HollandTRADING UP: Moscow’s big stores are sprucing up in an increasingly dynamic fashion marketplace. To wit: The department store Vesna Trading House will shed its austere architecture and reopen after undergoing a complete renovation. Slated to bow next February, the store boasts a key location on Novey Arbat, the Champs-Elysees of Moscow. Its new name, Vesna 21st Century, coincides with the store’s new avant-garde design: a transparent cube with a glass facade and steel escalators that slice through the interior. “It’s a new concept for Moscow,” said Ekaterina Krainioukova, the store’s general director. The 86,600 square feet of retail space stretches over four levels with the anchor tenant, International Trading House “East & West,” selling beauty products and accessories and European and American brands on the main floor. Men’s and women’s fashion will include Max Mara, Kenzo, Moschino, Marina Rinaldi, Iceberg and Etro. The store will also boast a salon, food court and restaurant, electronics shop and a high-end shoe department. — Emilie Marsh

France’s largest department store chain, Galeries Lafayette, has recruited Paul Delaoutre to replace Joel Mornet as president of its 59 stores in France and one unit in Berlin. Delaoutre arrives from France’s La Redoute catalog company, where he had spent four years as chief executive. Mornet had worked eight years at the retailer, which last year had sales of $2.11 billion, converted from the euro at current exchange. Delaoutre, charged with improving profitability and shepherding future growth, will report to Galeries Lafayette Group’s co-chairmen, Philippe Houze and Philippe Lemoine. — Robert Murphy

French designers Gaspard Yurkievich and Isabelle Marant both have secondary lines on their minds. Marant, known for her ethnic-inspired collections, has unveiled Etoile, or star, which she hopes will appeal to consumers looking for individual pieces at moderate prices. “Girls don’t want to spend too much for the basics. But they want to look good and they want something different from H&M.” Etoile will be priced under $150, with most pieces below $100. Although Marant had tested the Etoile concept over the last year, the first full-blown offering will arrive for fall. The designer, who had sales last year of $13 million, said she expects Etoile to quickly account for as much as 50 percent of her overall sales. Besides Marant’s two boutiques in Paris, the designer sells at Le Bon Marche in Paris, Barneys New York, and Madison in Los Angeles.Yurkievich, a winner of the prestigious Hyeres fashion contest in France, is gearing up to launch GY, which will be introduced in Paris during next week’s prêt-á-porter trade show. Known for his chic, streetwise touch, Yurkievich described the line as “very creative but less complicated. They are basics, but they’re funky.” He said prices will be about 30 percent less than his signature line. GY will be produced under license with the Korean industrial concern, Prêt-á-Porter Asia. — R.M.

The Brand Council, a London-based independent brand monitor, has published a list of brand leaders. Alexander McQueen was the number one consumer brand with the elusive wow factor, followed by the Danish video and audio experts Bang & Olufsen, Agent Provocateur, Tate Gallery and Ducati. These are the same five brands that topped the cool list last year. The list was devised by a panel of famous names, known as the Cool Council, which this year included British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, the photographer Rankin, Ozwald Boateng and Mark Rodol, director of the London club Ministry of Sound. The panel voted DKNY the coolest fashion brand and the VW Beetle as the coolest vehicle in which to be seen. Meanwhile, a separate poll of 18-to-30-year-old Brits put David Beckham at the top of the list of cool celebrities. Sean Connery was voted the coolest man over age 50 and actress Dame Judi Dench the coolest woman over 50. Tony Blair was voted the coolest politician and London — surprise! — was voted the coolest city. — Eve Thomas

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