MILAN — Fornarina strongly endorses having fun in life: “Fornarina Fun!” is one of the company’s mantras, spelled out in its ad campaigns and on its colorful tops.

Not surprisingly then, the hip Italian clothing and accessories firm will inaugurate next month its second store in the U.S. in the new Mandalay Place shopping center in Las Vegas — a city that built its international rep on fun and entertainment, and one that is increasingly garnering recognition for its shopping facilities and experiments in design.

The 2,160-square-foot store, designed by architect Giorgio Borruso, will open Feb. 6, followed by a live music party midmonth, held during the MAGIC apparel expos.

The Las Vegas store is the first step in Fornarina’s retail expansion, which, over the next two years, will see the addition of 20 stores to the existing 12. As a start, the company, based in Italy’s central Marche region, will open stores in Rome next month; in Stockholm in March; in New York at the end of 2004, and in Miami in 2005.

“I wanted to create a space restful for the mind and the eyes,” said Borruso of the Las Vegas store. “We put a lot of research in the materials, with some created exclusively for us.”

Borruso described a floor-to-wall vinyl carpet with tiny microfiber pearls that change hues, depending on the light, and enriched by a thin magenta thread. Light filters from a structure with octopus-like tentacles, while products rest on suspended resin plates or rings. Seats are shaped like dolphins, and egg-shaped resin displays contain the footwear selection, with a sort of “hibernating” look. However imaginative this all sounds, and although Borruso concedes the shapes are “strong for a strong impact,” the architect insists that “there is a reason for everything and the space is extremely functional: The product is center stage.”

The firm invested $1.7 million, or 1.4 million euros at current exchange, in this store and expects sales of $2.2 million in 2005.

Founded in 1947 by Gianfranco Fornari as a footwear company, Fornarina marked the Eighties with colorful cork wedges and clogs. The company is now led by the founder’s son, Lino Fornari, whose feminine sneaker launched in 1996 is still one ofthe brand’s bestsellers. Lino Fornari started diversifying the brand’s product offering, introducing an apparel collection in 1998 that last year accounted for 60 percent of sales.In 2003, Fornari SpA reported sales of $115 million, or 91 million euros, an 18 percent growth compared with 2002.

“Fornarina is about lifestyle: A woman who has fun playing feels and dresses younger than she is, mixes glamour, femininity and sports. It was only logical to add clothing and accessories to our footwear offering,” said Fornari, who knows the value of good marketing and strong advertising. Fornari said the company’s core customer target has shifted from teens to mid-20s over the past four years.

Fornari said denim is one of the brand’s bestsellers and cited the category’s fit and washes as the main distinctive qualities.

For the spring clothing collection, the company’s design team focused on Eastern atmospheres, with Japanese kimonos and jackets; black and white ethno-pop and optical patterns from the Fifties and Sixties, and one-shoulder tops from the Eighties. Everything’s peppered with a good dose of color — red, white, yellow and blue with floral prints, and touches of fluorescent pink. Footwear continues with the feminine sneaker trend, heavily influenced by the Olympics slated in Athens this year.

With an 80 percent market share, Europe is Fornarina’s main market, followed by the U.S., which has 8 percent.

“The U.S. is a very receptive market and open to clear projects that have a strong identity and strength,” said Fornari. “Americans respect different cultures — that’s why a brand should not negate its identity,” he said.

Besides Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, Fornarina is available at 150 specialty stores in the U.S. and at around 2,500 sales points globally. Retail prices range from $80 for sandals to $200 for boots, from $85 to $150 for denim items and from $30 to $60 for T-shirts and tops.

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