By and  on March 16, 2006

NEW YORK — Vivienne Westwood is getting herself into a New York state of mind for spring.

This May, the iconoclastic designer, who rarely travels to Gotham, will make a pit stop here to attend the opening gala of "AngloMania," the Costume Institute's spring exhibition, where many of her works will be featured, and take in some of the sights.

"Whenever I visit somewhere, whether it be business or pleasure, I try to take the opportunity to visit museums and exhibitions," Westwood said. "For the opening of my retrospective in Düsseldorf in February, I managed to see the Matisse exhibition and am hoping to visit the Frick in New York and am obviously very excited about the Met."

Westwood's trip couldn't come at a better time. After 9/11, the London designer closed her SoHo boutique here and decided to largely pull out of the U.S. wholesale market. Come fall, the designer will reenter the U.S. market, which will be largely driven by Anglomania, her younger-skewing contemporary collection with a focus on denim and washed cotton pieces. Westwood also is seeking to rebuild sales of the more formal Red Label, and eventually reenter the retail business to offer the top-tier Gold Label again.

"I was looking at the hits on our Web site and, surprisingly, over 40 percent of hits come from North America," said Christopher di Pietro, Westwood's marketing and merchandising director. "Financially, the potential in America is enormous, even if you are a niche brand."

Westwood once had a U.S. business in partnership with Itochu. The company opened a store on Greene Street here in 1998, and operated a showroom to develop its U.S. wholesale and retail business. At the time, Staff International was manufacturing the more upscale Red Label, while GTR was making Anglomania. Both had financial problems in the late Nineties and were hard-pressed to deliver a quality product on time.

"Then 9/11 happened and it all compounded," di Pietro said. "Itochu wanted to pull out of America. We didn't feel our manufacturing backup in Italy was serious enough to be in the States, and, much to our sadness, we put America on the back burner."

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