NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren has landed in Milan for men’s fashion week and this time he’s claiming a prime piece of retail territory for his own.

Responding to reports from sources that Lauren was expected to announce his first store location in Italy this week, a Polo Ralph Lauren spokeswoman confirmed to WWD on Monday the company had signed a lease to open a store on Milan’s premier luxury retail destination, at 4 via Montenapoleone.

Lauren will be the most well-known American designer to make a presence on a street that houses shops from some of the best-known Italian designers, including Gucci, Prada, Valentino and Armani, and French brands like Louis Vuitton and Céline.

Narciso Rodriguez, who opened a 1,100-square-foot store there last year, is the only other U.S. designer operating on the street, where competition for space is tight and rents have recently topped $198 a square foot, according to a WWD survey last month. Lauren has landed an exceptionally prominent location on Montenapoleone, having rented a four-story, 19th century building on the corner of via Baguttino, with large display windows on three sides.

The building currently houses high-end jewelry store Mario Buccellati on the ground floor and the offices of the Consulate of Panama on its second story, although Lauren is expected to take over the entire building, with plans to open a store in spring 2004. The space is about 16,000 square feet, of which Polo expects to dedicate 13,000 square feet to its luxury men’s and women’s labels, as well as the Polo Ralph Lauren home collection, according to the spokeswoman.

"While a lot of other facades on the street tend to run together a bit, because this location is on a corner, it gives a nice punctuation point," she said.

Polo has about 20 full Ralph Lauren stores throughout Europe, including those licensed and directly owned, with locations in Holland, Germany, Belgium, France, the U.K., Greece and Turkey. Analysts have estimated the Polo Ralph Lauren business will reach $500 million in Europe this year, as the company has prioritized its business on the continent recently, including the move to buy back control of its operations there two years ago.Last month, Lauren opened a third location in London at the corner of Fulham Road and Elystan Street, with a smaller format that resembles the designer’s store in East Hampton, N.Y., part of an ambitious retail rollout it has planned for Europe. As reported, over the next five to six years, Polo Ralph Lauren plans to open at least 60 stores in major cities and resort towns throughout Europe.

Lauren made headlines in Milan in June when he showed one of his strongest men’s wear presentations in recent years, leading the Italian press to herald his return this week. The designer is expected to present his fall men’s collection on Wednesday with shows, at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., and will likely announce the lease for the Milan store that day.

Lauren reportedly had his eye on the 4 via Montenapoleone location for some time and wanted to make a significant retail impact in the city, the only one of the four major world fashion capitals without a freestanding store featuring the breadth of his offerings. When it opens, the Milan location is expected to carry men’s and women’s wear under the Purple, Blue and Black labels, as well as accessories and the home collection. The location is between existing Prada and Armani Collezioni stores and faces Ferragamo and La Perla across Montenapoleone.

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