By  on November 27, 2007

LONDON — Karen Millen is planning an extended stay on U.S. shores.

The upmarket British retailer, which already has six freestanding U.S. stores, will open an American flagship in New York's SoHo next month, and the company plans to roll out 50 to 75 freestanding units and concept shops nationwide within the next three years.

"We're in it for the long run," said Sanjay Sharma, the company's international director.

Today, Millen has 100 stand-alone stores and shops-in-shops in the U.K. and 85 stores and shops-in-shops globally. Sharma declined to give sales figures or projections, but industry sources say Millen's current annual turnover is approximately $350 million.

Opening day for Millen's New York store is Dec. 8, and the official launch event is planned in March to introduce the new spring lines. The 2,800-square-foot store will be housed in what used to be the Mimi Fertz gallery at 112-114 Prince Street, between Wooster and Greene Streets. Sharma said he had been eyeing the property for years, due to its prime location, foot traffic and ambience.

"The space was really important to us. We wanted to get it right," he said.

The store was designed by Brinkworth Design, the architectural firm that has handled all of Millen's retail spaces. The shop has a light, airy feel with wood flooring, matte-finish glass and original features from the existing building. Cocktail dresses, trenchcoats and handbags are expected to be popular items, Sharma said.

"It's nice because it is Karen Millen, but with that New York feel, too," he said, adding he was already scouting venues uptown for a second New York location and potential store sites in Los Angeles that should bow by the end of next year.

Sharma said the brand used its six existing U.S. stores as a litmus test before expanding further in the American market. "We wanted a soft launch. We have been very cautious, as the U.S. has traditionally been the graveyard for British retailers expanding. We wanted to be credible, and slowly build brand recognition. We wanted to understand our consumer," he said.

Sales at the current stores — in Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Short Hills, N.J., and the Beverly Center in L.A. — have outperformed expectations, he said."This is based on the product alone — no p.r., no marketing; people walking in and being impressed by the offering," he said. "We are really confident with this launch, based on those years. Now we are ready to let everyone know we are here."

The retail expansion will be focused on the East and West coasts, and some specific central and metropolitan markets like Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. Another store is planned in Boston.

"We've researched the [U.S.] market. We believe there is a customer who fits our demographic. We appeal to aspirational, confident women," Sharma said. "We see ourselves as entry-level luxury; beautiful product displayed in a beautiful, designer environment."

In 1981, Karen Millen teamed up with Kevin Stanford to launch her signature label. The label quickly became popular in the U.K. because of its positioning between midmarket and designer brands, and its sophisticated and minimalist store design. Three years ago, the brand was purchased by Mosaic Fashions Ltd., the parent of Oasis, Coast, Whistles and Warehouse. Mosaic is partly owned by Baugur Group, the Icelandic investment firm that also has stakes in Matthew Williamson and PPQ. Karen Millen, who had been head designer, left the company after the sale, but serves as an ambassador to the brand and remains a shareholder.

Millen's offerings include daywear, denim, cocktail dresses, accessories and intimates. The spring collection, due to be launched March 12, will consist of four stories, each with approximately 25 pieces, including matching belts, shoes and jewelry. Prices in the U.S. will run slightly higher than in the U.K. to cover shipping costs; items will retail from roughly $210 for a pair of tailored trousers to $600 for an oversize leather bag.

Now that the company's plans for the U.S. are in place, Millen is looking to expand into Russia and China. The company also wants to launch more accessories.

"We have only scratched the surface of what is possible. For me, that is very compelling," said Sharma. "This brand could travel and travel."

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