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Neil Barrett Eyes Growth For Women’s Line, Retail

Neil Barrett is plotting a busy year, including new retailing projects, a structured expansion in the Asian market and the launch of an accessories line for...

MILAN — Neil Barrett is plotting a busy year, including new retailing projects, a structured expansion in the Asian market and the launch of an accessories line for women and men.

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In two weeks, the British designer will also launch what he defines as a “mono-product” women’s collection made from men’s fabrics: trousers and shirts based on his men’s line and produced by the same manufacturer in charge of that division, which will evolve season after season with slight variations. “These will be men’s pants with different shapes and fits for those women who are looking for a masculine touch [in their clothes],” said Barrett, whose reputation is built on well-cut, tailored suits and an absence of frills.

To underscore his women’s line, Barrett showed eight women’s looks for fall on his runway Sunday during Milan Men’s Fashion Week. The designer headed Prada men’s wear until 1999, when he launched his first namesake men’s line. Over the past two and a half years, Barrett has been growing his women’s collection, which accounts for 27 percent of sales. “My business has been based on clothes, and largely on men’s wear, without accessories, conversely to the majority of other fashion brands,” said Barrett. “I think there are so many growth possibilities for this brand now and it is essential that I grow my women’s collection.”

While strictly maintaining his “one thing at a time” mantra, the designer will expand his brand through a line of handbags and small leather goods to bow for spring 2009, produced by a web of specialized manufacturers.

Barrett said he has signed an agreement with PMD Japan, which will start distributing his brand in Japan with the fall season. The first step will be the opening of a store in Tokyo’s Aoyama district in August. Over the next five years, PMD Japan will also help Barrett open his first boutique in Hong Kong and other flagships and corners in a number of other Asian markets.

That said, Barrett said he planned to continue working with other stores in Asia, such as Lane Crawford and Joyce, where business was “fantastic.”

Despite Japan’s lackluster economy, Barrett said he is pleased with his performance there, noting Japan is his second-largest market after Italy. “We’ve seen incredible sell-throughs of about 75 percent in Japan, and excellent sales, so this is the right time to expand there for us.”

Japanese customers buy more into the “fashion part” of the collections, with a “great level of taste,” the designer said.

The boutique in Aoyama, close to Prada’s, will cover 4,320 square feet and will unveil Barrett’s new store concept. Barrett already counts a store in Osaka; the new Aoyama store will replace a smaller existing one in the same area.

Barrett plans to open his first U.S. store in Los Angeles by the end of the year. “Our own stores will help us show the collection in its entirety,” he said.

The line is available in 450 points of sale around the world. The designer’s footwear collection, produced in-house, is carried at 300 specialty stores globally. The company had sales of 52 million euros, or $77 million, in 2007, a 35 percent increase compared with the previous year. For 2008, the designer forecast sales of 68 million euros, or $100.6 million at current exchange rates.