By  on November 27, 2007

NEW YORK — With a 97-foot-long catwalk filled with mannequins bisecting the center of the store, MNG by Mango asserted its style in the fast-fashion company's first Manhattan unit, a 7,500-square-foot flagship that opened Wednesday in SoHo.

Mango — U.S. stores are called MNG by Mango for trademark reasons — signed a lease for the space at 561 Broadway in May 2006, but the opening was delayed. The previous tenant, Kate's Paperie, didn't want to vacate. There also were negotiations with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Mango wanted to make changes to the building's facade, and finally agreed to install only a cast iron canopy above the entrance.

"It was a long negotiation with Kate's," said Jose Gomez, vice president of business development at Mango. "We wanted them to leave earlier. We really wanted that SoHo location. I negotiated and sat on [the location] until I got it."

The store features a mix of antiques and modern furniture. Antique mirrors hang on the walls, and sweaters and accessories are displayed on 18th-century tables. A row of 80-year-old chairs salvaged from a theater that closed in Barcelona line the edge of the runway and provide shoppers with a place to rest. Gomez declined to estimate volume.

The Barcelona chain operates 1,070 stores in 92 countries; its competitors Hennes and Mauritz and Zara have stores in 28 countries and 68 countries, respectively. However, H&M and Zara are more developed in the U.S., which Mango entered a year ago. Zara has 25 stores in the U.S. and H&M has 132.

Mango has moved quickly in the last year, opening 15 U.S. stores. An MNG by Mango shop opened on Nov. 16 at the Northbrook Court mall in Chicago. Others are to launch in Boston, San Francisco International Airport, Puerto Rico and Washington.

"It's very tough because real estate is very tight," Gomez said. "It's hard to find AAA locations. SoHo is a AAA location because it has an international clientele, American tourists and New York shoppers."

Gomez said Mango eventually might open as many as 270 U.S. stores. "The market will tell us how many stores we can open," he said. "In Spain, we have 270 stores. We could replicate that number."Mango doesn't take a cookie-cutter approach to merchandising. "Our stores are merchandised according to climate, population and taste," Gomez said. "We have a Siberian collection for cold countries. We have an Arabic collection for the Middle East. It uses lighter fabrics and different designs. For example, we make skirts longer to cover women's feet. As far as sizes, we do smaller sizes for Asia. We're learning from the market. We had the idea that the U.S. was larger sizes, but then we opened a store in Los Angeles, which has a big Asian population, we were unprepared because we didn't have size 0."

Mango engages European and American designers for what it calls the New York and Paris collections. They are produced four times a year, and prices are 20 percent above those of typical Mango fare. Unlike H&M, which has collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney, among others, Mango keeps the names of the designers secret, preferring to allow the clothes to stand on their own merit.

The retailer also produces Limited Edition collections such as the line designed by Penélope Cruz and her sister, Mónica, which is now in stores. "We thought Penélope was a good link," Gomez said. "She's from Spain and is well known in the U.S. With all these collections, we are trying to add value for our customers." Milla Jovovich has designed another collection featuring dresses and skirts.

Mango's take on fashion is a bit more refined than the look of similarly priced brands. The winter collection features short-sleeve tops in ethnic prints for $45, a plaid tunic with front pockets by Penélope & Mónica Cruz for MNG by Mango, $89, and a sleeveless color-blocked dress, $79.

"We want to be elegant," Gomez said. "We want to dress a woman from the beginning of the day to the end of the night, from jeans to dresses. We want to be sexy but not too revealing....We want to make women pretty and sexy and feminine at the same time."

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