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Alice + Olivia Heads to Japan

Expansion plans call for 13 in-store shops, including a launch in August at the coveted The Stage at Isetan Shinjuku.

NEW YORK — Opening a flagship in Japan seems to be a rite of passage for many young contemporary brands.

This story first appeared in the July 9, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The latest brand to travel east is Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet, which signed an agreement with distributor Look Inc. and importer Mitsubishi Corp., to launch the label in Japan. Plans call for 13 in-store shops, including a launch in August at the coveted The Stage at Isetan Shinjuku and an introduction at Hankyu Umeda in October. Flagships of 1,500 to 1,800 square feet will open in Tokyo in 2013, followed by Osaka. There will be wholesale distribution to specialty stores and an e-commerce site. Alice + Olivia and its Japanese partners have set a first-year sales goal of 2 billion yen, or $25 million.

“There’s more opportunity throughout Japan,” said Deanna Berkeley, president of Alice + Olivia. “If things go well we could look at Kobe and other strategic cities.”

With a population of more than 127.5 million and gross domestic product per capita of $34,740, it’s no wonder a Japanese flagship is on so many designers’ to-do lists. Tory Burch’s 2009 Tokyo flagship was the company’s first international store and the starting point for its Asian expansion. Rebecca Taylor last year opened a flagship in the Harajuku section of Tokyo in partnership with Itochu and Rebecca Minkoff in October unveiled a 3,000-square-foot unit in partnership with Tokyo Style. “The Japanese market was the first international market we did business with in 2005,” said Uri Minkoff, the company’s chief executive officer. “The country has been a great gateway to open up to other parts of Asia, which has had significant growth for us.”

However, the Japanese have been buying less apparel relative to other household products; the category declined 4.4 percent in 2010, according to a report by a Japanese trade group.

“Our clothes are so right for the market,” said Bendet. “They’re girly, fun and colorful. They combine sophistication and an almost anime aesthetic. I feel like it’s a moment when we’re ready as a brand and ready as a company. We’ve stayed out of Japan and focused on Europe and the Middle East. We’ve been working on this deal with Look for more than a year. When you’re a growing company, you have to do one thing at a time.”

Berkeley said the line won’t need much tweaking for Japan. “Stacey has already been inspired to do things that are relevant for that market,” she said. “She’s always been very inspired by that culture. They like dresses more fitted and a little shorter. Certain things will be designed just for Japan.”

Alice + Olivia is passing on Harajuku, a Tokyo neighborhood popular with young people, for its flagship site. “We’re going for designer locations [such as Omotesando or Aoyama],” Berkeley said. “It’s important for the brand as a whole. In a lot of stores we sit with designers and in others, we sit with contemporary labels. Internationally, we’re almost always placed with designers in [department stores].”

On the product side, a new gown line will launch in a few weeks. And there’s a push for more domestic and international growth. “More stores will open in Asia and the Middle East,” Berkeley said. “There will be a third location in New York in the very near future and we’re looking for a fourth.”