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PARIS — Goodbye Boogie bag. Hello calf-lined Classic.

This story first appeared in the November 23, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Phoebe Philo’s first collection quietly arrived at 15 Celine boutiques and select wholesale accounts worldwide last week, the beginning of a clean sweep for the French house that will see all existing product lines do a disappearing act by mid-January.

Next year will also see the arrival of a new Philo-led boutique concept — to be unveiled first at the company’s Avenue Montaigne flagship here in the first half — and a tweaking of Celine’s global boutique network.

Certain locations have already gone dark, including on Madison Avenue in New York. A Rue de Rennes unit on the Left Bank here will also be shuttered next year, said Marco Gobbetti, chief executive officer of Celine, part of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton luxury group.

Powered by Philo’s sleek and luxurious designs, the company has already kickstarted the wholesale business, ramping up the door count to about 250 worldwide — roughly half of those new.

In North America, for example, Celine’s distribution jumped from one client, Nordstrom, to almost 40 doors, including Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Jeffrey, Ikram, Mario’s, Maxfield and Holt Renfrew.

“Phoebe’s vision of a woman is perfectly suited for the American customer,” Gobbetti said in an interview Friday at Celine’s headquarters, where the brand’s old Macadam logo was only recently scratched off the reception desk. “America will definitely be an important market.”

The executive said all regions jumped in terms of wholesale volumes, including Japan, and that certain outerwear styles from the cruise collection have already sold out. He noted two leather goods lines — Classic and Luggage — have attracted “a great deal” of interest.

“I know that we can grow very quickly. The response has been tremendous,” Gobbetti said, flashing a big smile. “This has the potential to become a much bigger brand than it is today — and rapidly. I’m very optimistic.”

He declined to discuss figures or give sales projections, saying only that, “revenues in 2010 will not go down from 2009,” and characterizing its “100 percent” switch of the product offer as “quite bold in this market.”

Sources estimated 2008 revenues at Celine at about 200 million euros, or $294.3 million at average exchange rates.

Gobbetti said Celine plans to maintain its retail-driven business model, with about 70 percent of revenues streaming in from some 115 boutiques.

Indeed, the network continues to expand, with a Macau unit slated to open later this month and a boutique at the IFC in Shanghai due in the first half of 2010. Also, shop-in-shops are scheduled for a range of stores, from Hankyu in Osaka and Harvey Nichols and Selfridges in London to Printemps in Paris.

Gobbetti did not rule out further boutique closures and said the three remaining U.S. locations — in Bal Harbour, South Coast Plaza and Honolulu — are under review, even as a new Manhattan location is deemed a priority. In Japan, the shop-in-shop count will be trimmed from about three dozen to two dozen.

“There are certain stores that are not adapted to the way we see the brand today, the product today and the consumer who will aspire to it,” Gobbetti explained.

That said, the executive asserted former clients of Celine — founded 64 years ago as a children’s shoes business — are responding to Philo’s more modernist, fashion-forward approach.

The plan is to overhaul about 10 locations to Philo’s new design concept in 2010, Gobbetti said. Minor adjustments were made to the decor of existing stores, particularly window displays and mannequins.

He noted he expects quicker growth in ready-to-wear in the near term, but that Celine would maintain its balance between rtw and accessories, currently about 50-50.


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