By and  on May 16, 2007

PARIS — Millions of European women will soon come into contact with designs by Max Azria — at prices not much higher than a bottle of Champagne or a baked ham.

Carrefour, the world’s second-largest retailer after Wal-Mart, unveiled its new Tex by Max Azria collection, a contemporary line slated for August delivery at 718 locations in Europe and designed to help ignite the retail giant’s nonfood business.

“We are going to reach a lot of women that are very difficult to reach,” said an ebullient Azria, in town for a fashion show and launch event Tuesday night at the Musée de l’Homme here. He was referring to the fact that Carrefour stores in Europe are typically located on the outskirts of large cities or in smaller towns, giving him unprecedented access to women, who make up 80 percent of footfall at its stores, which totals 20 million people daily.

The Tex line initially will be sold in France, Greece, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Portugal, with the Carrefour-Azria deal calling for a minimum guaranteed volume of 1 billion euros, or $1.35 billion, through the end of 2011.

Carrefour declined to specify its future rollout plan, but it is understood the label will ultimately be expanded to other doors in additional markets. There are 1,040 Carrefour units in the world, while the group operates more than 12,000 stores in 29 countries. Carrefour recently has seen some turmoil with the departure of its chairman, Luc Vandevelde, and Bernard Arnault’s Groupe Arnault linking with Colony Capital to buy a 9.1 percent stake in the retailer.

José Maria Folache, Carrefour’s general manager for Europe (excluding France), noted that only one in five Carrefour shoppers purchases apparel in its aisles, a ratio it aims to increase with Azria’s contemporary and mostly casual styles, which range from lantern-sleeved cardigans and tailored coats to low-slung jeans andfringed suede boots. In the first quarter, sales of nonfood items rose 0.4 percent at Carrefour.

The giant retailer’s aim is to bolster “pleasure-related purchases. This is our new strategy,” Folache said during an informal press conference held on the middle of the catwalk before the show. “We’re looking to convert this brand into a full-fledged fashion label.”

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