By  on June 1, 2007

MILAN — Furla will mark its 80th anniversary this year with an exhibition at Tokyo's Museum of Contemporary Art, or MOT, in the fall and a project, Retail Design Hub, that chairman and chief executive officer Giovanna Furlanetto hopes will help her add innovative design content to Furla's collections of handbags and shoes.

Furlanetto's ambitious goals include doubling the company's sales and the opening or updating of 56 directly owned boutiques and 60 franchised stores by 2011. The executive aims to achieve this through organic growth and dismisses the idea of acquisitions or a public listing.

"Nothing is set in stone, but this is not in the cards for the time being," said Furlanetto during a press conference held at the company's showroom here last week.

Furlanetto underscored the importance of the Japanese market for the company — a market that is showing no signs of slowing down for Furla. The company's sales in Japan grew fourfold over the past year and the country now represents 18 percent of total revenues. Sales in 2007 at Furla, whose fiscal year ends on Oct. 31, are expected to grow 16 percent compared with last year, reaching 150 million euros, or $202.1 million at current exchange.

Japan is the firm's second-largest market after Italy, which accounts for 35 percent of sales. The U.S. is third, representing 14 percent of sales.

In the fall, Furla will kick off its Retail Design Hub program, under which it will start selling items created exclusively for the brand by two designers to be selected by a jury panel that includes Vogue Italia's Franca Sozzani, Vogue's André Leon Tally and Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and fashion director at Barneys New York. The names of the designers will be revealed in September and the products will be presented during Milan Fashion Week that month.

There is no set length for the collaborations, nor is there a set number of designers eventually to be selected under the program. "We wanted a fresh, international take on our products and we, in turn, offer these designers an incredible visibility network," said Furlanetto, adding she was working on a concept for the 15 to 20 stores that will carry these products. The retail concept will allow the collections to stand out and differentiate each store.Furla's ongoing focus on retailing is paying off, as the company has been reporting a 23 percent increase in the number of customers in its stores each season for the past four seasons. Furla has 225 stores worldwide. "We are proud of being in the best locations in the world, from Bond Street in London and Madison Avenue in New York to Ginza in Tokyo, where we even have a cafe in the store, " said Furlanetto.

Retail expansion this year includes the opening of two stores in India and one in São Paolo, Brazil. This year, retail sales are expected to reach around 360 million euros, or $485.1 million.

The executive said Yuko Hasegawa, curator of MOT, invited Furla to be a part of Tokyo's design week, called "Space for Your Future," in October. Four artists awarded with the Furla per l'Arte prize, a project Furlanetto initiated in 1999 to promote emerging artists, will show at MOT. "They are the only four Italians, in the company of such artists as Rei Kawabuko, Hussein Chalayan and Pipilotti Rist," said Furlanetto.

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