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Fontaine Goes Big on Madison and Beyond

It seems that women don't live by white shirts alone, after all.

NEW YORK — It seems that women don’t live by white shirts alone, after all.

Anne Fontaine, who redefined the white blouse with a single-minded focus on the garment, has much more up her sleeve. For starters, there is a three-story, 7,500-square-foot flagship at 677 Madison Avenue designed by Andrée Putman. Opening in June, the store is expected to generate $8 million to $10 million in sales in its first year, according to Ari Zlotkin, chief executive officer and Fontaine’s husband. The flagship will replace an existing 600-square-foot store at 687 Madison Avenue.

The first floor will be devoted to Fontaine’s designs, which include some jackets and knitwear, and there also is some color.

A spa with four treatment rooms on the second floor will open in early 2009. Meanwhile, a VIP area with two spacious rooms on the lower level will cater to those in need of a more discreet shopping experience. “I get a lot of stars on Madison Avenue,” Fontaine said.

In stark contrast to the white walls throughout the store, a black room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the main level will introduce Fontaine’s Precious collection of hand-assembled shirts, priced from $1,000 to $4,000. The limited edition collection uses silk, cashmere, satin and organza, said Fontaine, adding, “I work with artisans who do hand work in small production runs. Each piece can be different.” The shirts will be available in white, black and some colors. Handbags and belts will be added to the collection in December, but they won’t necessarily be made of precious skins. “It’s very important to take care of the environment and animals,” said Fontaine. “I use some precious [skins], but only from animals that you eat. I have some treatments that are interesting. I use some silver and gold painting.”

“This is something where the aim won’t be to make a commercial piece, but more to make an exercise of style and creativity,” said Zlotkin. “Anne will be free to do whatever she wants.”

Anne Fontaine’s sales are expected to be $110 million this year, up from $60 million five years ago. The Madison Avenue store will be the largest of 24 units in the U.S., including two other stores in Manhattan, on Greene Street in SoHo and Rockefeller Center. “We may open another store that size [of the flagship] in New York,” said Zlotkin. Fontaine is getting ready to open an outlet store in Las Vegas, the company’s second in the city, and a unit at the Four Seasons Galleria in Macao. Zlotkin said there are additional projects in Japan and Germany. A flagship opened in Tokyo’s Aoyama district in 2006 and the company is poised to open at least 10 units in Japan by 2010.

This story first appeared in the March 31, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Fontaine hasn’t followed the traditional luxury brand business model, where the launch of a ready-to-wear line is usually followed by handbags and accessories, fragrance and a home collection. Rather, she’s introduced products that fit her own needs at a particular point in time. Last year, she opened a spa and introduced a signature skin care line at her Paris store on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. At the same time, she created an at-homewear line that uses bamboo fabric, organic cotton, silk and linen. The at-homewear will be sold in the new flagship. Commenting on her nonconformity, she said, “People say to me, ‘You decided to create a spa before you made pants or skirts.’ I don’t like to make things like other people.”

Cosmétique Bio Anne Fontaine, the designer’s treatment line, is divided into two parts. There’s Naturel de Lin, an all-natural treatment collection, and Performance de la Soie, which uses silk protein to help regenerate cells and moisturize and protect the skin. The spa’s treatment rooms are more like hotel suites, Fontaine said. “I made something very luxurious,” she added, noting that a glass-covered veranda will be used for manicures and pedicures. “Before I started in fashion, I wanted to be a biologist,” said Fontaine, who designed the treatments for the spa. “Now I’ve come back to my first passion. I have 100 products. It’s a very complex line. Some products contain cotton and bamboo. I take care of the outside of the woman and I want her to feel good inside.”

Fontaine is keeping future concepts close to her shirt. “I have some new projects,” she said. “I have two children, ages 3 and 9. I would like to make children’s clothing. I have so many possibilities and ideas.”

And Zlotkin said the company has the capital to back those ideas. “Money is not our short-term need,” he said. “We’re a family company. We don’t have anybody behind us.”

Fontaine added: “We are approached by investors a lot. For sure [money] is important, but you want to do something in a very good way. I don’t want to be fast.”

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