MILAN — “I’m so excited, yet so nervous. Imagine little me in tall New York,” joked the petite Anna Molinari before her trip to New York to inaugurate her first in-store shop at Saks Fifth Avenue today.

Three years after her last visit, Molinari planned to cross the Atlantic to celebrate an important turning point for Blumarine, the ready-to-wear line she designs, which has made significant inroads in the U.S. Evidence of Blumarine’s American progress is in the whopping 70 percent sales increase in the U.S. in two years. Sales of the spring 2005 items alone grew 25 percent compared with the same period of 2004.

The U.S. market now accounts for 14 percent of Blumarine’s sales, which are estimated to be $170 million for 2004. All figures were converted at current exchange rates.

The designer’s U.S. trip has a packed day-into-night schedule, which kicks off today with a cocktail and runway show at Saks. Blumarine’s shop-in-shop features wood panels, while the company is shipping over leopard carpets and antique chairs. Models in the company’s rich African boho spring looks will sashay down a transparent runway with the Blumarine logo spelled out with slivers of mirrors glowing in the back as guests sit on upholstered ivory chairs.

“I’m so proud because we’ve only really been present in the U.S., which is a notoriously tough market, for two years. Now that we’ve sped up deliveries and raised brand awareness, retailers appreciate the product because it sells,” Molinari said.

In lieu of a flagship, Molinari conceded she actually favors a shop-in-shop arrangement for New York. “Consumers like to browse around, to compare different designer labels, something they can do in a department store but can’t do in a flagship,” she said.

On Tuesday, Molinari will hold a trunk show at Saks and host a dinner at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room. Emilia Fanjul has assembled the dinner’s guest list of 100 young society women, while Molinari chose salmon-colored tablecloths, leopard printed napkins, orange and yellow flower arrangements and an Italian menu with specialties from the country’s various regions.

The petite blonde designer cited the brand’s more glamorous pieces as U.S. bestsellers: a red velvet felted cashmere jacket with gold frog closures; czarina-inspired velvet coats with faux leopard cuffs and collars, and a floral printed cardigan with longhaired fur trim over Prince of Wales check trousers in muted blush shades.Blumarine is available in 150 U.S. accounts, including Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Henri Bendel.

Off duty, Molinari said she wants to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art because “I’ve never been, and I want to check out great bookstores.” Beatrice Borromeo, whose sister Lavinia just wed Fiat’s John Elkann, will accompany Molinari throughout her trip.

“I know I will love New York even more after this trip,” mused Molinari.

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