WAL-MART’S NEXT MOVE: It’s no secret that Wal-Mart is eyeing international expansion, but could Italy be next? Italian supermarket chain Esselunga denied a report in Italian daily Finanza & Mercati that it’s in advanced talks to sell the business to Wal-Mart. “There’s no truth to the idea that we are in talks,” a spokeswoman said, dismissing the recurring market rumor of a sale. Esselunga posted revenues of 4 billion euros, or $4.87 billion at current exchange, in 2003, on its network of 120 stores. The chain has a 8 percent market share in Italy in the supermarket and hypermarket category, according to Esselunga’s Web site. One London-based retail analyst noted the Italian retail market is “notoriously difficult to penetrate” because of bureaucratic hurdles and corruption. Wal-Mart would also have to adjust to small-store formats in Europe. Elsewhere on the Wal-Mart front, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart subsidiary Asda declined to comment Tuesday on rumors in the U.K. press that Asda was poised to take over the discount retailer Matalan. The Manchester Evening News said Asda was preparing a 1 billion pound, or $1.79 billion, takeover bid for the chain.

IN THEORY: Anticipating a huge exodus from Manhattan this week, Theory plans to host an end-of-summer cocktail party and photo exhibition at its East Hampton store tonight from 6 to 9 p.m., celebrating photographer Michael Dweck’s photo book, “The End. Montauk, N.Y.”

PHI’S LATEST HIRE: As Phi, the new designer brand founded by Susan Dell launching for fall, prepares to open its first store on Sept. 7, the company named Dorit Engel as store manager for the location at 71 Greene Street. Engel was previously store director for Christian Dior in New York and worked for Gucci America in various retail capacities prior to that. She will report to Julia Hansen, president of Phi.

OATES TO HARVEY NICHOLS: Averyl Oates has been named buying director at Harvey Nichols, replacing Anne Pitcher, the store said Wednesday. Oates, who is currently women’s wear merchandise director at Harrods, will start in her new post on Oct. 18. She will be responsible for buying across all areas of the business, and will report to Joseph Wan, managing director of Harvey Nichols. Before joining Harrods, Oates worked for Emanuel Ungaro and Donna Karan in retail and wholesale positions. As reported, Anne Pitcher has been named buying and merchandising director for Selfridges.

This story first appeared in the September 2, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.