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Color Siete Heading North

<GR:"WOMENS (wwd)? daily wear><GR:"2001"><GR:"TODAY'S stories? top><GR:"1201"><GR:"122601"><GR:"KRISTIN fr? contributions with larson>NEW YORK -- Color Siete, with just $15 million in retail sales and 26 shops in Central and South America, is not...

NEW YORK — Color Siete, with just $15 million in retail sales and 26 shops in Central and South America, is not about to storm America, like Benetton or Hennes & Mauritz did.

But the Manizales, Columbia-based fashion chain does have some American allies to help get a U.S. expansion off the ground. Among them is Philip Miller, the former Saks Fifth Avenue chairman and chief executive officer and currently a consultant, and the NoHo-based branding firm Graj + Gustavsen.

“Color Siete is a great concept, but what it needs is a very focused and interesting merchandise vision for this market and hopefully an international market,” said Miller. “We need to find manufacturing or retail partners to take the concept to the next level and introduce it to more consumers.”

“The goal is to bring the modern Latin lifestyle to an international market,” said Luis Felipe Molina, president and founder of the privately held Color Siete chain, which has been operating since 1989. “First, we have to evolve to improve the image and create a new identity. Beyond that, we want to create a concept that will endure, borne from an authentic Latin heritage — not trendy or of the moment. It will be more refined.”

Color Siete has been selling a casual Banana Republic/Kenneth Cole look for some time, but realizes there’s just too much of that in the States. So in March, Color Siete NA was created, and another design team formed to refine the look and launch stores in the States, either freestanding or shop-in-shops. Wholesaling is also under consideration. The firm hopes to make its U.S. debut by fall 2002, probably with a freestanding store in Florida.

Primarily a men’s chain, Color Siete introduced women’s merchandise for holiday.

“It’s cool, modern and celebrates the sensual,” said Steve Sicular, a Graj + Gustavsen project manager, describing the women’s line.

He said the line has weekend, active, work and after-hour clothes geared for 22- to 36 year-olds and with “an upscale appeal at a value-price point.”

The debut spring collection offers solid shirts with stretch, priced at $48-$50; print silk shirts at $60; rayon and nylon blend sweaters, $45 to $55; cardigan and tank-top twinsets, $90; printed stretch pants, $55; dressier wool viscose pants, $65; leather jackets, $220, and high-tech denim stretch dresses, $70, among other items.

Miller said that for Color Siete to succeed in the U.S.: “It has to appeal to a broad audience, a fashion audience, but it would be an injection of something Latin. That is not something done here to my knowledge. In the U.S., the prevalent design influences are either European or American.”

“It’s an urban project,” Miller added, most suitable for Florida, New York, Texas or Southern California.

Miller has established an independent consulting firm, Philip B. Miller Associates, and remains a member of the board of Saks Inc. He has been working as a consultant to Graj + Gustavsen, assisting on the Color Siete project. Other clients are Berglass Grayson executive search and BC International Group Inc., which operates leased fur departments in better department and specialty stores.

“My basic role is business development,” Miller said.

Graj + Gustavsen, located at 21 East 4th Street, is considered a “turnkey” brand specialist, helping to redefine and expand brands, such as Carters, Radio Flyer, Saks Fifth Avenue and Timberland, over the years. At Sears, Graj + Gustavsen reinvented the hardware department for a family appeal, and for Simon Properties, Graj + Gustavsen created a cybercafe.

For the Color Siete project, Graj + Gustavsen took an equity position and charged a smaller fee than usual. According to Simon Graj, president of Graj + Gustavsen, it won’t be easy for Color Siete to make its mark in the U.S.

“There are so many stores here and we no longer live in an age of consumerism,” he said.

Of the 26 Color Siete stores, 18 are franchised. Stores average 1,200 square feet.

“The business development efforts have just begun,” said Stephen Goodman, president of Product Link, Graj + Gustavsen’s design and product development arm. He said there have been presentations to a handful of retailers, venture capitalists and manufacturers.

“There is a big opportunity in the U.S. market for a brand with a Latin-inspired lifestyle,” Molina said. “But we won’t do it in a patronizing way. It will be a richly inspired Latin concept.”