NEW YORK —Retailing,by its very nature,is aDarwinian proposition,and the hunt is always on fornew retail concepts.

The Gap has said it is reducing expansion and ismaking o commitments for 2003.Retail analysts actual-ly expect the company to close stores.Eddie Bauer,Wilsons Leather and BCBG are pruning locations,and J.Crew ’s expansion is on hold.In addition,the first waveof so-called entertainment retailers has hit the skids.The Disney store is scaling back its chain from a high ofmore than 500 stores in the about 350 by 2005.Warner Bros.Studio Store was phased out last year,andthe Discovery Zone was forced into bankruptcy.

It ’s a telling sign that one of the few new chains forwomen is Adrienne Vittadini,a 23-year-old brand thatpeaked in 1990 with a volume of around $110 millionwholesale.While it was an important fashion resourcein department stores,the collection disappeared as thebridge market sank in the late Nineties.

Retail Brand Alliance,the owner of Casual Corner,Brooks Bros.and Petite Sophisticates,acquiredVittadini in 2001,and is giving the brand a second life.The company hopes to have 30 stores,ranging in sizefrom 5,000 to 6,000 square feet,operating by October2003,and malls are eager to welcome Vittadini.

"It ’s a brand-new apparel tenant in a category –bridge –that ’s been very challenging,"said DavidWeinert,group vice president of leasing for theTaubman Company.

Most of the new chains on the horizon are eithersiblings or extensions of already successful concepts.Chico ’s,a chain whose comfortable fashions concealflaws in physique that come with middle-age,is rollingout Pazo,aimed at 25-to-35-year-old fashion-consciouswomen,next year.

Others are targeting younger customers.Forever 21and Hot Topic ’s Torrid are aiming at juniors and largesize teens,respectively.It ’s o coincidence that many ofthe new chains are geared to teens.The group spent $172billion on apparel in 2001,according to TeenageResearch Unlimited (TRU),or about $104 per week.

But the field is crowded.Some see opportunities inthe children ’s arena.Mary Drolet,a former retail exec-utive,opened Club Libby Lu,a chain for girls."Therearen ’t a lot of people playing in the [tween ]field,"shesaid."In the ext eight years,demographics will swingheavily towards teens,but there are a lot of players inthat market already."Paco Underhill,founder and managing director ofEnvirosell,a testing agency for stores and banks,ex-pects more foreign merchants to test U.S.waters.Naartjie,a Cape Town export,selling children ’s cloth-ing in colorful ethnic fabrics,opened several locationsin California.

"Why Mango isn ’t here is a good question,"saidUnderhill,referring to the trendy Spanish clothingchain.He also cited Mavi,the Turkish denim resource,which is opening its first two stores,including onesouth of Union Square here,and another in Vancouver,in December .

"Urban retailing is increasingly strong,"Underhillsaid,"but the major vehicle for selling is still going tobe the shopping mall,at least for the next three years."

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