MILAN — In a city dominated by the likes of Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani, Milanese shoppers have slowly embraced more affordable fashion retail chains.

The mark was set in September 2002 when Zara opened its flagship on Milan’s busy Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Then, Hennes & Mauritz announced its plans to open a store down the street in the old Fiorucci split-level complex the following year.

In the same central area, English accessories chain Accessorize, which is part of the Monsoon franchise, opened its fourth store in Italy on Milan’s Via Torino in March.

Clearly, location seems to be the key to driving sales for moderate-priced chains that don’t have much exposure or history in a luxury-driven market like Italy.

“It took a long time to set up and find the store in Milan. We were quite fussy with what side of the street we want and the location,” said Christian Ganado, director of Accessorize. “You have to be on the best street. It’s a question of flow.”

Popular retail street Via Torino also will be home to Milan’s first Mango store opening this September. The Spanish clothing chain, with sales of $997 million in 2002, has opened eight stores in Italy since 2001, beginning with tourist town Sanremo, with another four planned to be open by the end of the year. Mango’s first Milan store will be located in a 2,460-square-foot space in what was a cinema. Dollar figures have been converted from the euro at current exchange.

Mango expansion director Isak Halfon said, “It has been quite hard to open Mango stores in Italy, mainly because the lack of big spaces. All the stores in Italy are not quite big enough. Moreover, the prices for the key locations are extremely high. On the other hand, the Italian market tends to be protectionist with its own brands.”

Safeguarding local shop owners has been a priority of Italian city councils and real estate agents. Ganado said Accessorize Italy experienced some problems with bureaucracy after forming the company, but it didn’t stop the group from opening a store in Italy a month later.Ganado said he could see only benefits of opening shops in Italy, in particular because of the way Italian staff worked in the Accessorize environment.

“The staff in Italy are well trained and good at window merchandising, which is important to our customer flow,” Ganado said.

Since opening the first Accessorize shop in Rome in 2002, the company has opened six more Accessorize shops in Italy. Accessorize Italy plans on opening 10 more shops in 2004.

Despite the teething problems, Accessorize and Mango each have reported good results from their Italian ventures. Ganado said most Accessorize shops are “what we forecasted or above in the first year.”

“In a good week, the Milan store will turn over 35,000 euros [$39,463],” Ganado continued. “The shops in the smaller towns benefit from long weekends where they double their intake.”

Meanwhile, Mango reported that since opening the Rome shop nearly four months ago, it has already established itself as the 14th top performer of the 630 Mango shops worldwide.

“The business in Italy has been going very well so far and we’re very satisfied about it,” Halfon said. “We’re very confident that the Italian market will represent for us a great opportunity of growth. The turnover of the Sanremo shop, the only Mango shop that has been working for a whole year, has been 30 percent more than the initial forecast.”

Even the stylish shoppers of Milan have seemed to welcome the midprice stores into their wallets.

“The Milanese who only buy Prada and Gucci bags and women who wear Armani suits have come into our stores and said, ‘It’s great — I can buy something for 50 euros and look just as good,’” Ganado added.

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