By  on January 30, 2006

MILAN — M Missoni is on a roll, and now it's capitalizing on the momentum by opening its own retail stores.

With an average 50 percent growth rate per year since 2003, a recognizable designer look at more affordable prices and an expanding product offering, the brand is quickly gaining market share and catching the eyes of celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Paris and Nicky Hilton and Jessica Simpson. In a move to further expand the business, licensee Valentino Fashion Group is investing in a new retail strategy and will open the first-ever M Missoni boutique in New York this spring, followed by four more stores in Asia and the Middle East later in the year.

And if the growth continues, the company may look to do M Missoni's first fashion show in 2007.

"We are opening in the U.S. first because this is M Missoni's biggest market, accounting for 45 percent of sales," said Michele Norsa, chief executive officer of Valentino Fashion Group, in a joint, exclusive interview with Graziano De Boni, president and ceo of VFG U.S.A., at the company's headquarters here. The New York store will be directly operated.

The 1,300-square-foot store in New York will open in SoHo on West Broadway in April, with a show, an event and a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the start of the relationship between Missoni and VFG. "We feel the location is more important than the size of the space, and this boutique is exactly where we wanted it to be," said De Boni, noting the store is located alongside DKNY, D&G and Tahari and opposite Ralph Lauren. "Also, we wanted a modern, but warm and cozy look, where it's easier to shop."

The company worked with Angela Missoni, creative director for both M Missoni and the women's Missoni brand, on the store concept for a young, neutral look, with off-white wood floors and walls. There will also be a mobile area that can be easily shifted around to change the look of the store with the addition of differently colored rugs or cabinets to adapt the store to a particular season's color palette.

In 2006, the company will open franchised stores in Bangkok, Kuwait and Jakarta and in either Shanghai or Beijing. "Asia is where the growth is," said Norsa.

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