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PARIS — Chinese shoe brand Stella Luna opened its first store in Paris on Saturday, gaining a toehold for future European expansion.

This story first appeared in the December 10, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The 870-square-foot shop is located at 181 Boulevard Saint-Germain, close to Berluti, Etro and Ralph Lauren’s boutiques.

The concept is in line with the brand’s other stores in Asia. “The concept is a contemporary museum with a little French touch to it,” Stephen Chi, chief executive officer and creative director of Stella Luna, said. “We believe shoes are like an art and should be presented like art pieces.”

Designed by the English architect Jamie Fobert, who conceived the new Versace boutique in New York’s SoHo district, the store has purple velvet chairs, original wood floors, molding on the ceiling and a VIP room.

Around 150 pairs of shoes are presented in the store. Ballerina flats retail at 235 euros, or $304 at current exchange, and a pair of slippers with studs is priced at 425 euros, or $550. “As we learn more about the Parisian market, we will have specific collections and probably a capsule collection,” Chi said.

The flagship marks the first step of the brand’s expansion into Europe. “Paris is the center of fashion,” said Chi. “You have to do this place right. If we can do a good job in Paris, we can do well everywhere else.”

In the next three to four years, Chi plans to open additional stores on the French capital’s Right Bank, as well as in London, Milan and possibly Venice. In the same time frame, the company is targeting distribution in around 20 doors in France in department stores such as Le Bon Marché, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.

Stella Luna is part of Stella International Holdings Ltd., whose main business is contract manufacturing. It produces around 55 million pairs of shoes a year, according to Chi, with a client list including Prada and Marc by Marc Jacobs.

In 2006, the company started a retail division that today includes the Stella Luna brand, the junior shoe brand What For and the men’s shoe brand JKJY. According to Chi, there is no conflict of interest. “A lot of brands are asking for our support and guidance [to tap the Chinese market],” he said.

Chi said he expects the group to post sales of around $1.6 billion in 2012, with the retail division representing around $130 million. Chi said sales for the retail division have been growing at an average rate of 30 percent in 2011 and 2012, adding that he is projecting double-digit growth in 2013.

Today, Stella Luna counts around 220 doors in China and South East Asia and the Middle East, including a mix of flagships, stand-alone stores and department stores.

Stella Luna positions itself as an affordable luxury brand. “If you really look at competitors, they are either more expensive or mass market. There is nobody in between,” Chi noted. “Our main customers are affluent women of the age group between 30 and 35, with good taste.”

To bolster its launch in Paris, there will be an ad campaign with visuals created by Atelier Franck Durand and photographed by Giampaolo Sgura. It is set to hit key French weeklies and monthlies focusing on fashion issues, starting in February. He noted the brand is not targeting Chinese tourists visiting Paris. “They have plenty of stores back in China,” Chi noted.

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