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Smet Lands in Europe

Brand Opens First Store in Paris.

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PARIS — Los Angeles rock ’n’ roll styles have landed in the chic Saint Germain neighborhood here with the opening of the Christian Audigier Cos.’ first Smet store in Europe, part of the L.A.-based company’s push into the Continent.

Selling streetwear and accessories for women and men, Smet, a collaboration between French-born designer Christian Audigier and French rock legend Johnny Hallyday, who was born Jean-Philippe Smet, is the latest of three Audigier-owned stores to open in the area. The Smet boutique, which opened in June, is next to Audigier’s eponymous store on the Rue Bonaparte, which opened last December, and minutes from the company’s Ed Hardy location, which opened on the Rue de Rennes in April.

While those brands are sold through multibrand doors across 72 countries, Audigier is building its own store network in order to control each brand’s image and be able to quickly change layouts and product, explained Marc Plisson, European stores director for the Christian Audigier Cos.

With sales for the three Paris locations expected to reach 2 million euros, or $3.2 million, by yearend, Plisson said he intends to repeat the triumvirate approach on the city’s Right Bank next year. The French capital is the first stop on the company’s European tour, with London and Berlin, plus party destinations like Ibiza and Saint-Tropez all on its retail wish list.

Elsewhere, the firm opened the first of two Hong Kong locations planned for this year, while a Shanghai store is slated for fall and boutiques in Beijing and Macau will open next year.

Designed to recall Hallyday’s rock star status, the 600-square-foot Parisian Smet store’s zebra-striped carpets, Baroque-style chandeliers and black, crocodile-print walls provide a stark contrast to its minimalist French neighbors, which include Yves Saint Laurent. The boutique, where prices start at 64 euros, or $102 at current exchange, for a T-shirt and go up to 400 euros, or $635, for a leather jacket, is brimming with photos of famous fans, which include Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and Madonna.

Indeed, the company, which expects total sales to more than double from $115 million in 2007 to $300 million this year, relies largely on celebrity endorsements to promote its wares. In Madonna’s case, so the story goes, the company was warned of the futility of sending her products. “We were told she receives 450 boxes a day and that she opens three of them,” said Plisson. “So we sent her 450 boxes, to be sure the three were ours.”

It’s an investment that seems to have paid off. While the firm insists the star isn’t under contract, the singer is often spotted wearing Ed Hardy skull-design T-shirts or Smet caps. “People follow celebrities,” Plisson said, noting the first customer at the Paris Smet store when it opened was a diehard Madonna fan who buys the same brands as his idol.

For executives, France was a natural European launchpad for Smet, as Hallyday, who’s recording his next album in London and L.A. this summer and is planning his final French tour next year to coincide with his 66th birthday, is one of the country’s most famous figures. However, while the star will host an official inauguration party at the Smet boutique in mid-September and fan club members receive a 10 percent discount, executives were keen to gain backing from other celebrities to ensure the label isn’t seen purely as Hallyday’s and doesn’t attract his fans only.

“Johnny is the luxury face of the brand, we want to highlight the fashion side and lend Smet international appeal,” Plisson explained.

When it comes to retail, the company sets out to offer consumers a different experience from the rest of the market but one that remains the same the world over, like a Planet Hollywood restaurant, explained Plisson.

With its leopard-spotted floors, a ceiling of dangling lights plus gold trimmings, the 600-square-foot Christian Audigier store, teeming with the brand’s flashy apparel and accessories, is like Ali Baba’s cave. Customers are typically 15- to 35-years-old and bestsellers include the stripy tank tops worn by the likes of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Audigier’s reinterpretations of tattoo artist Ed Hardy’s designs, meanwhile, are showcased in a 2,000-square-foot airy, loft-style store with tattoos emblazoned on walls. The Ed Hardy boutique also sells the teen brand Crystal Rock, which features doll faces on organic cotton T-shirts and is designed and named for Audigier’s 16-year-old daughter. In July, the store introduced Paco Chicano, the Barcelona-based brand licensed to Audigier, which offers colorful and gypsy-influenced designs for women.

Meanwhile Audigier, who left Von Dutch in 2004 to set up his company, and previously worked for Diesel Men, XOXO and Bisou Bisou, is diversifying the business beyond apparel. After introducing a wine collection to the U.S. earlier this year, in July the firm opened a nightclub at Treasure Island in Las Vegas, and this month will inaugurate its own apparel trade show in Las Vegas called When I Move You Move. Audigier is also joining the realms of fashion names with designs on Dubai, and plans to finish creating the interiors of a hotel there by 2010.

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