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BEVERLY HILLS — Sergio Rossi might not have the kind of name recognition in the U.S. it enjoys in Europe, but, backed by Gucci Group’s retail infrastructure, that’s about to change.

This story first appeared in the July 31, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Italian footwear and accessories brand opened its newest boutique at 366 North Rodeo Drive last Saturday, the second of three boutiques to open in the U.S. this summer.

As reported, a door in Honolulu opened on July 20. On Aug. 3, the New York boutique at 833 Madison Avenue will close after five years and reopen five blocks away in an 1,800-square-foot space on the corner of Madison Avenue and East 66th Street.

“We consider the U.S. a major market for us and the most important one in which to expand,” said Gianvito Rossi, who works with his father, creative director and president Sergio Rossi, in the business. The younger Rossi was on hand for the Saturday afternoon opening here.

It was a low-key affair, with customers enjoying champagne and hors d’oeuvres as they shopped. The store will mark its arrival officially in October with a party.

In 1999, Sergio Rossi SpA recorded revenues of $60 million, and in November that year, Gucci Group bought a 70 percent stake in the company. (Gucci does not break out division volumes.) Rossi credits Gucci for taking the company up a notch in its retail operations. By the end of this year, there will be 35 directly operated stores worldwide, more than doubling the size of the fleet in two years.

“Our experience has been very much about the collection and production. In retail, we were not so experienced,” Rossi said, noting that Gucci has eased expansion by helping secure store locations, arranging for product shipments and managing the store’s merchandising.

Rossi said the company plans to open more locations in top American markets as real estate becomes available. He declined to give a specific time frame. The company waited more than a year for the Rodeo Drive location, a former Benetton store.

The store interior lives up to its tony address. The design concept, first unveiled in April 2001 in Japan, was conceived in-house.

Natural light floods in to the 1,600-square-foot space from the two story-high glass facade. Light also comes from the recessed ceiling panels and table lamps made of stretched fish skin.

Brushed and bronzed brass frames the large entrance, oversized mirrors and trims the modern teak furnishings. On facing walls, cascading curtains of silver and brass metal beads hang from the ceiling. The space is finished with teak wood paneling, brown suede and pony-skin armchairs.

And, as in all Sergio Rossi stores, there is the stack of leather shoe boxes rising to the ceiling, a kind of sculpture that’s become a signature.

“We wanted it to be a lounge with soft ambience,” said Rossi.

As for the merchandise, the fall and winter collections take their cue from European style at the turn of the century. Standouts for women include a rounded toe perforated like a traditional man’s wingtip in black leather retailing at $410, and a trench-coat boot in a black waterproof canvas-like fabric for $835 or in brown suede for $930. Bags range from a large black soft tote for $715 to a black beaded evening clutch for $835.

Rossi declined to speculate on the boutique’s first-year sales. Local real estate sources, however, say the store could pull in sales between $1,000 and $1,500 a square foot annually, based on the performance of similar stores in the neighborhood. That would put the shop’s volume between $1.6 million and $2.4 million.

The company is forgoing a big advertising campaign for a significant public relations push. Celebrities are part of the plan — Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman and Catherine Zeta-Jones have already test-driven Rossis on the red carpet.

The store features a VIP dressing room — a first for the company — as well an area for special orders on different hides, colors or heels on any of the season’s existing models. On average, it costs about 20 percent more for custom-made shoes.

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