NEW YORK — Abercrombie & Fitch Co. has hired two former Gucci Group executives to head its European expansion, which the company said last week will begin by late 2006.

The executives, both of whom started on Feb. 1, are Francesco Giannaccari and Luca Mavaro, a person close to the company said. Giannaccari is president and Mavaro is chief financial officer. Abercrombie’s new European unit doesn’t have an official headquarters yet, but it could be in Milan, Italy’s fashion capital, the person said.

At Gucci, Giannaccari was most recently cfo of Bottega Veneta. He stepped down in mid-November. Mavaro, who left the company in December, was the director general of Gucci’s Swiss operations. Abercrombie’s chief operating officer, Robert Singer, was Gucci’s cfo for nine years before joining Abercrombie in May 2004. Singer, who is an American, lived in Italy for 23 years and speaks several languages, including Italian, said Abercrombie spokesman Tom Lennox.

The firm said during its fourth-quarter earnings conference call last week it will expand in Europe and announced five store openings set for Toronto and Edmonton this year. Abercrombie might eventually have about 20 stores in Canada. For now, the Canadian stores will consist of three Hollister units and two adult Abercrombie stores.

In total, the company plans to add 55 Hollister stores in 2005, which would bring its total to about 311, close to the amount of adult Abercrombie stores the company plans to have in the year, which will be around 370. A total of 170 Abercrombie kids stores and 10 Ruehl locations are also planned by the end of the year. The fifth Ruehl store is set to open in Columbus, Ohio, in April. Other Ruehl sites are expected in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and in Denver.

As for what spawned its European expansion, Lennox said it was a matter of when, not if, it would happen.

“We see the Abercrombie brand recognized in magazines in London and Germany and the Far East in Japan,” he said. “Prior to this year we were reluctant to expand the business because we believed it could be a distraction…[but] when there’s adequate return, you need to take advantage of it.”

This story first appeared in the February 25, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“There really isn’t anything quite like an A&F over there [in Europe],” said Liz Pierce, analyst at Sanders Morris Harris. European retailers “have things that you can see are knockoffs, but the completeness of it doesn’t replicate what Abercrombie has done. It doesn’t quite have that American spin.”

Abercrombie announced last week that it is building a product development office near its company headquarters in New Albany, Ohio. Lennox said the company needs a separate space to research, develop and design. When developing Ruehl, which launched last year, “we made a huge mess in a lot of our [existing] office space.”

But there’s at least one other benefit to the new space. “It will give us more control over our sourcing processes,” Singer said.

In light of the new product development office, could Abercrombie be planning yet another concept? The company said late last year that it could eventually expand to Latin America and in Asia.

“Never say never,” said Lennox. “Mike’s [Jeffries, chief executive of Abercrombie] strength is inventing and managing aspirational lifestyle brands.”

Pierce echoed Lennox’s thought, saying “I would never rule that out.”