Forever 21 has opened its first department store-style location in an effort to strengthen its customer base and provide more choices.

This story first appeared in the January 26, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The 85,000-square-foot unit, a former Mervyns space, is in the Macerich-owned Los Cerritos Center in Cerritos, Calif., about 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

Forever 21 executives said the “emporium” format that launched on Friday permits a larger selection in categories such as lingerie, swimwear, shoes and plus-size apparel, than the fast-fashion chain is able to accommodate in its average stores of about 40,000 square feet.

“The new department store concept offers our customers a greater assortment of value merchandise,” Forever 21 founder Don Chang said. “In this difficult economy, we’re happy to be able to offer much more affordable fashion-forward apparel.”

Executive vice president Larry Meyer said the new concept would help the chain appeal to customers over age 24, a demographic that represents more than one-third of Forever 21’s customers, with 45 percent falling between 18 to 24 and 20 percent under 18. Most, but not all, of the larger locations will get the new design, depending on store location and market.

The two-floor Los Cerritos Center store features white lacquered and mirrored walls, ornate crystal chandeliers and Lucite display cases. It is also the first location to house Forever 21’s new children’s wear collection, which will be carried in 62 doors starting Friday.

Forever 21 has about 30 larger stores in the works, including a 90,000-square-foot unit in Times Square and a 125,000-square-foot store in a former Dillard’s at General Growth Properties’ Las Vegas Fashion Show mall on the Strip. Both are to open late in the second quarter.

“We’ve always had this vision of a fashion department store; our owner always wanted to go in that direction at some point,” Meyer said. “This is the start of the execution of that vision.…This is the first, so it was quite expensive to do the work, but this was the prototype so we had to get it right.”

The megastore design was made possible when the company acquired 15 Mervyns mall leases in a joint bid with Kohl’s, which took control of 31 freestanding stores, for $6.25 million in a court auction last year, in addition to seven former Gottschalks locations.

International growth is of increasing importance to Forever 21, which did an estimated $2.2 billion in sales for 2009. The retailer plans several stores in Europe next year in locations yet to be announced. Forever 21 has 462 company-owned units and 20 franchise locations. In spring, the chain will open three Tokyo stores in Shinjuku, Ginza and LaLaport Tokyo Bay development in Funabashi City.

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