By and  on May 14, 2013

Alice + Olivia has formed a strategic partnership with retail, brand management and distribution company ImagineX in Asia to open 23 points of sale in the region over the next five years, the company said Tuesday.

Deanna Berkeley, president of Alice + Olivia, declined to discuss sales projections, but said the ImagineX partnership in Greater China and Southeast Asia will make up 20 percent of total international business in five years.

Japan, which was Alice + Olivia's first international foray last year, is experiencing triple-digit sales increases. "It's such an emerging business in Japan," Berkeley said. "The growth is exponential."

Alice + Olivia continues to expand in Japan. In the fourth quarter, a flagship will bow in Tokyo. Alice + Olivia shops-in-shop will open at Matsuya Ginza in Tokyo and Daimaru Shinsaibashi in Osaka, bringing the number of Japanese in-store shops to six. At the time of the launch, Alice + Olivia and its Japanese partners set a sales goal of 2 billion yen, or about $20 million, in the first three years.

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The first Alice + Olivia freestanding store in the region will open in Hong Kong in June in IFC Mall. It will be followed by launches at Harbour City on Canton Road in Hong Kong. The next stores will open in Taiwan and Singapore, said Berkeley, noting that Macau is also on the schedule. The brand eventually will unveil freestanding stores in Beijing and Shanghai, "but nothing is solidified yet," Berkeley said.

The IFC unit will be a smaller format store of 800 square feet. "It will be more of a jewel box,' Berkeley said. "It will be a highly curated assortment, but it will represent the whole lifestyle. We loved the location in the mall. It was all windows on a great corner." Stores in Asia will generally range in size from 1,500 square feet to 2,000 square feet.

Stacey Bendet, Alice + Olivia's designer, said the brand resonates with Asian women because "our aesthetic is feminine, sexy, sophisticated and emotional at the same time. I find that Asian women, on the one hand, like to be sophisticated and refined, but they also like a little fun. They like high-heeled shoes and color."

"There's an individuality that the new generation is looking to express," Berkeley said. "We've seen a saturation of luxury [products] all over the world. The individuality shoppers [are] looking for leaves room for contemporary brands. Also, if it's a more accessible price point, they can choose so much more clothing."

Alice + Olivia, which was launched in 2002, has more than 800 points of sale in 50 countries. The brand in 2008 entered Greater China through a wholesale relationship with ImagineX's sister company, the luxury department store Lane Crawford. The China retail rollout is a significant driver in Alice + Olivia's international expansion plan.

Alice + Olivia is also in negotiations with a partner in the Middle East, Berkeley said. "Our strategy is to open in a couple of locations," she added. "Dubai is very important to the market."

Bendet watched the rise of contemporary in Asia firsthand at Lane Crawford. "For a very long time, the contemporary market didn't exist there," she said. "Now, there's this boom. It's the increasing affluence of the middle-class customer. Everybody thought it was all about luxury because there are very rich people in China and Hong Kong. Contemporary is newer in Asia, so there's an eagerness to expand. Today consumers are far more exposed to international fashion and trends. They see our clothes on celebrities."

Alice Wong, executive director of ImagineX, said that Alice + Olivia's strong performance at Lane Crawford prompted ImagineX to strike a partnership with the brand.

"I think the brand really speaks very much to Asian customers," she said, explaining that ImagineX plans to develop the business in a similar way that it grew the DKNY, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Club Monaco and Juicy Couture brands in China.

Wong said the contemporary segment of the market is relatively new but growing quickly in China. That's an indication of how the Chinese market has moved past the "first wave of consumption" centered on menswear and high-end luxury accessories, she explained. Women are still buying luxury bags and shoes but are looking for new names for stylish, seasonal ready to wear at a competitive price point.

"Hong Kong is a market that has been growing very nicely with contemporary along the last 10 to 15 years.. but [in Mainland] China, contemporary is relatively new to them," Wong said.

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