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U.K.’s Karen Millen Advances on America

NEW YORK — British retailers have come, and usually gone, in the U.S, but U.K. contemporary fashion designer Karen Millen thinks she can break the jinx. She’s aggressively hunting for store sites, in the 1,500- to 2000-square-foot range,...

A minimalist approach: The Karen Millen store in Milton Keynes, England.

A minimalist approach: The Karen Millen store in Milton Keynes, England.

WWD Staff

NEW YORK — British retailers have come, and usually gone, in the U.S, but U.K. contemporary fashion designer Karen Millen thinks she can break the jinx. She’s aggressively hunting for store sites, in the 1,500- to 2000-square-foot range, on this side of the Atlantic, with about 10 seen operating within the next year or two.

This story first appeared in the March 7, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

More could open later if the first phase of the invasion succeeds, according to executives from the $120 million Kent, England-based firm.

“We are going to take it slowly, but I see the market for us in the U.S. as the same size as the U.K.,” said Kevin Stanford, Millen’s chief executive. He founded the business in 1981 with his partner and former wife Karen Millen, the chief designer, spending $160 on 100 meters of white cotton that Millen used to design shirts for friends. From that, a collection was born, and in 1983, the partners opened their first store in Maidstone, Kent. Six years later, their first store in London was opened on King’s Road.

Last September, the first two Karen Millen stores opened in the U.S.: a 2,300-square-foot unit in Beverly Center, Los Angeles, and a 1,700-square-foot unit in Copley Place, Boston. A store in Lenox Mall in Atlanta is scheduled to open around April and one in the Houston Galleria in the fall. The stores are each seen exceeding $1 million in first-year sales.

“There’s the potential to open 100 stores. We’ve discussed it,” said Alan J. Napack, director of retail services, Cushman & Wakefield, the real estate consultant contacting developers on behalf of Karen Millen. “I think the goal is to go public.”

The company is negotiating for space in other “A” malls, including Aventura, Fla., the Somerset Collection in Troy, Mich., the Mall of Millenia in Orlando, The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey and is also looking for opportunities in Manhattan, San Francisco and other major cities, according to Napack.

With the exception of Burberry, French Connection and Paul Smith, British retailers and designers have had little luck operating stores in the U.S. Such companies as Next, Monsoon, Laura Ashley, as well as The Body Shop, had their ups, but mostly downs. However, Stanford thinks the timing is better now for British goods. “The U.S. market has changed,” he said. “There is more of an understanding of European fashion. People in the U.S. are more interested in European fashion. We used to be a lot further apart than just the Atlantic.”

Karen Millen specializes in contemporary sportswear, coats, and dresses, with an average price of about $130 to $140 per item. Accessories and cosmetics are also offered. The target customer is 18- to 40-years-old with a cosmopolitan lifestyle. The company has more than 50 stores in the U.K. and 20 stores in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It has never wholesaled and does very little advertising. The partners also own Whistles, a well-known retailer and apparel brand in the U.K., with a different mood, but similar prices. There is also another partner for European and U.S. expansion, Siggi Bollason, who operates a small retail chain in Iceland and is a franchisee of Karen Millen stores.