By and  on October 11, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Wal-Mart's new contemporary line, Metro 7, marks a number of firsts for the world's largest retailer — ones it hopes will help give its $25 billion apparel business a fashionable edge.

The main initiative is the signing of celebrity spokesmodel Dayanara Torres, a former Miss Universe. The collection also uses 100 percent silk, rayon, spandex and other techno fibers for the first time, challenging the company's traditional price points. Tank tops normally sell for $7.94 at the store; Metro 7 tanks are $9.94. The highest price point for the brand is a $29.94 softly tailored velvet blazer with pinched pockets that is fully silk lined. For fall, outerwear will push the price threshold even higher.

Karen Stuckey, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, said stores already are reporting that Metro 7 is performing well. "We're very pleased. We have significantly, in some areas by as much as three times, exceeded our projections. This validates our theory that there are customers in our stores looking for that kind of fashion-forward styling."

Plus sizes are performing every bit as well, said Stuckey, adding, "the plus-size customer is every bit as interested and focused on high-style looks."

The collection is in 500 Wal-Mart doors nationwide and bows on the company's Web site today, as well as in another 500 units in February. A shiny silk cami, trimmed in sequin-speckled lace, retails for $9.94. There are cotton slacks with an embedded cargo pocket and colored embroidery across one leg and the back pocket for $22.94, and a crochet cap-sleeve shrug for $16.94.

"This contemporary customer doesn't mind paying more as long as the value is there," said an executive involved with the company producing the brand, who requested anonymity.

About 25 percent of the line consists of denim and skirts. That will increase for spring, including more novelty tops, said the executive. "Tiered skirts will continue in a new, fresh way."

Wal-Mart executives declined to provide sales projections for Metro 7, but sources predicted sales could top $100 million within a few months.

Torres is signed on so far only for the inaugural holiday and spring rollouts. The company approached her in midsummer. "I had to see it first. I love the way it looks and feels, but the prices make it so accessible to everyone," she said during a shoot at Miahaus Studios here. "There's no excuse for anyone to look frumpy anymore.

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