MIAMI — The luxury market can’t get enough of Miami or vice versa this year. The Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton hospitality chains opened hotel and residential towers; lavish high rises, including designer Philippe Starck’s Icon, are nearing completion or breaking ground, and the Village of Merrick Park bowed as an upscale, outdoor shopping concept with tenants like Neiman Marcus, Sonia Rykiel and Carolina Herrera.

Bal Harbour Shops are also getting in on the action, with Roberto Cavalli, D&G, Louis Vuitton and Hermès launching or undergoing renovations in 2002.

Operating under the name Hermès of Paris, the American subsidiary of the French purveyor of luxury goods expanded and redesigned its Miami location. It is part of an ongoing plan to renovate older or smaller stores in areas with strong sales and open stores in new U.S. markets, according to Robert Chavez, president of New York-based Hermès of Paris. Other projects are to move and renovate the San Francisco branch and open a store in Honolulu.

"We felt that there is tremendous potential in the Miami market and that we had outgrown our space," said Chavez of the original 700-square-foot store that had occupied an eastern section of Bal Harbour since 1993.

He said the new 2,800-square-foot location that lies directly west of the mall’s main entrance is an ideal position and makes for the best advertisement. Its grand opening will be celebrated tonight with an in-store champagne toast and reception followed by a seaside soirée at Haulover Beach.

Chavez attributes Miami’s high sales to a wealthy local client base boosted by Latin Americans and tourists. He estimates tourists account for half the store’s business, and that the new space is projected to generate double-digit sales growth, though Chavez declined to comment on exact figures.

As a center, the Bal Harbour Shops generated $1,284 in sales per square foot in 2001, according to Randall Whitman, leasing agent for Bal Harbour Shops. At that rate, Hermès’ annual sales at that store would be in the neighborhood of $3.6 million.

For the nine months through Sept. 30, Hermès’ consolidated sales were up 0.7 percent to $876.7 million. The company’s 2001 sales were $1.23 billion.Access to more goods and categories is fueling sales, Chavez said. Whereas only a few items from each collection were offered before, dozens are now available."We no longer have to agonize over which pieces to pick. We can buy all two-dozen great things in each collection," he said.

There is also more room to present the men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections that introduce six to eight looks each season. Describing the women’s spring line as "sexy, elegant and simple," Chavez noted key components are open-back styles with jackets, cotton, lightweight cashmere, and a neutral palette of black, white and beige. "The selection is comparable to New York’s," he said, listing shoes, enamel bracelets and watches as key accessories.

Chavez reports the expansion was necessary to properly merchandise every item from baby blankets to crystal to gifts. "One reason for all the recent store expansions is that Hermès has been expanding its ‘Art de Vivre’ division. Those items require a lot more space than clothing," he said.

For an optimum display setting, the company updated its traditional store decor of wood paneling and equestrian themes. A modern design utilizing more glass than wood creates a brighter feel compared with past stores. Minimal materials like cherry wood, polished steel and tile allow the product to be the focal point, according to Chavez.

In contrast to its modern turn, the store will recreate the good life of old-fashioned France for itsafter party. Dubbed "An Evening in Saint-Tropez," the fete brings the South of France to Miami Beach through the use of indigenous flora, Provencal linens, terra-cotta pots lit with candles and games of pentangue.

Expected guests, includingChristina Getty, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Gloria Estefan, will dine on Mediterranean cuisine while listening to the music of the Gipsy Kings as well as a DJ, delivered by disco diva Regine.

A silk scarf will fly atop the lifeguard house and glowing orange boxes strewn across a rock jetty will appear as jetsam. And just in case some pirates try to come ashore, security will be tight as a ship.

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