By  on October 1, 2007

MONTREAL — French luxury brand Zilli has chosen to open its first North American store here to take advantage of the common use of the French language, the city's European tastes and the company's long association with local supplier Zuki Furs.

Its headquarters in Lyon, France, is also the twin city of Montreal.

The primarily men's wear company used the downtown store's opening late last month for the North American launch of its first women's outerwear collection of 200 pieces, called Zilli Femme. The line includes some fur garments from Zuki, which has been supplying fur to Zilli for years for men's coats.

The company has always carried a limited assortment of women's accessories and handbags, but this is the first season it will introduce outerwear. Zilli products are already available in more than 30 countries, including a duty free shop at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and at a dozen wholesale accounts across the U.S.

The Montreal store is 2,700 square feet over two floors and has the same interior design as other Zilli units, with an accent on leather, brass and mahogany in ivory, gold and black. Zilli plans to open stores in Toronto and Los Angeles next year. The company wouldn't comment beyond next year, although more duty free shops are a possibility.

Zilli was founded in 1970 by a tailor of the same name who ran a small leather and fur workshop in Lyon that was transformed by current owner Alain Schimel into a new concept: luxury leather sportswear for men, which was expanded into a full collection in 1996. Most goods are produced in either Lyon or Italy.

Schimel opened his first Zilli boutique in London in 1983, followed by Paris in 1990, Moscow in 1993 and other cities throughout the world. The privately held company's products are now sold in about 150 stores worldwide, including 25 company-owned stores. Sales in 2006 were $50 million, up 43 percent from 2005.

What sets Zilli apart is its "exceptional attention to detail," according to communications director Benoît de Valicourt.

"We also use the best fabrics in the world," de Valicourt said. "For example, we are the largest user of black velvet chinchilla in the world for our coats, accounting for about 70 percent of all black velvet chinchilla produced."

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