MILAN — Nautica Enterprises Inc. furthered its European expansion by opening a 6,480-square-foot showroom in Milan Tuesday.

“Italy is the first step into Europe,” said David Chu, chief executive of Nautica. The sportswear firm has partnered with Ridenco Italy SpA, a branch of the Greek Ridenco SpA, a longtime Nautica licensee and distributor. Chu said he was confident Ridenco’s 10-year experience of operating 22 Nautica stores in Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe would be key to breaking ground elsewhere on the Continent.

“Italy, in particular, is crucial for us; it is a leading and innovating market and the most important in Europe, where it is pivotal to work with a local partner,” said Chu.

Chu said Nautica shut its showroom in London this year after a failed attempt to enter Europe and that this new approach was planned before it was acquired by VF Corp. in August.

Chu said a women’s sportswear line was one of the firm’s priorities and said it could be ready for fall 2005. As for the positioning of the men’s division, Chu said that Italians have been known for many years for their tailoring, but they are shifting toward a more casual lifestyle. In Italy, Nautica will also start producing a men’s accessories line for spring, through Ridenco Italy.

Patrizia Morini, general manager of Ridenco Italy — which is based in Bologna, where Nautica also opened a showroom this year — said the company expects to reach 100 points of sale in Italy with the spring collection and 150 points of sale with fall 2004 deliveries. Between February and March 2004, the company plans to open two flagships, in Milan and Rome, and two more stores in fall 2005, but locations are still to be determined. Morini said Ridenco invested $1 million in the Milan showroom and plans to invest almost $600,000 in advertising here to launch the spring collection.

The Milan showroom is on Via Manzoni, off Via Montenapoleone and near the Armani megastore.

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