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NEW YORK — Nautica has set sail in India.

The company, a subsidiary of VF Sportswear, Inc., has opened its first freestanding stores in India. The initial one opened last Thursday in Bangalore, and the second opened on Saturday in New Delhi.

“As far as international expansion goes, India is where things are happening,” said Denise Seegal, president and chief executive officer of VF Sportswear, a division of VF Corp. “There is such growth potential for American designers, with millions of consumers looking for status brands.”

Nautica already operates 160 stores outside the U.S. and chose to enter India with its new store design. The new look reflects the brand’s “Navigator” concept, which includes signature striped cherry and maple floors and classic yachting details in the fixtures.

“These stores are the first of their kind in the world,” Seegal explained. “This is how the new stores will look going forward.”

This summer, Nautica will open a third Indian store in Chennai, and there are plans in the works for units in Mumbai and Hyderabad. The stores, which range from 2,500 to over 4,000 square feet, offer a full selection of product, from Nautica Jeans, women’s wear and men’s wear to swimwear and accessories. The stores will carry the women’s better sportswear and home lines beginning with the spring 2007 season, along with the new fragrance from Coty, Voyage.

From a marketing standpoint, Nautica executives wanted to prepare consumers for the company’s first entrance into India.

“There already was a huge brand awareness in India since we have stores in other countries, but we wanted to make a real entrance in India. We started by dressing some of Bollywood’s hottest film and TV stars,” said Seegal. She also pointed to the company’s Nautica Navigator Road Rally, which showcased the brand on a vehicle that traveled over 1,000 miles throughout the country. “It all ties back to our energetic brand positioning,” she said.

In India, Nautica is produced under a licensing agreement with Arvind Brands Ltd., a subsidiary of Arvind Mills Ltd. The company also holds the licenses for two other VF brands, Lee and Wrangler. In addition, Arvind produces product for the shirt brand Arrow; it launched Tommy Hilfiger in India through its nine freestanding stores in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkota, Hyderabad and Chennai, and last month, Arvind introduced the Gant brand in the country. In addition, the company has several homegrown brands such as Excalibur, Flying Machine, Ruggers, Bay Island and Newport.

This story first appeared in the May 24, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

While Nautica has seen success in opening freestanding stores outside of the U.S., it has had some trouble with its own stores in its home country. Nautica closed its only store in the U.S. — a flagship at Rockefeller Center — in August 2004. Seegal said the brand will be back in action in October, when the company will give U.S. retailing another try, opening a unit in Saucon Valley, Pa.