NEW YORK — Tracy Reese isn’t crushing on Japan; she wants to have a meaningful relationship.

This story first appeared in the February 14, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The designer’s triple-threat collections include a namesake line, Frock and Plenty. On Feb. 25, she will open a 500-square-foot store at the Omotesando Hills shopping center in Tokyo, alongside brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo and Harry Winston. It will be Reese’s second freestanding store in the world after an inaugural unit on Hudson Street in the West Village, here.

For the past three years Reese has been working with Japanese distribution company Itochu Corp. “Our business has steadily grown during a challenging economic time in Japan,” said Barry Miguel, chief executive officer of T.R. Designs, the firm’s parent company. “We’ve been selling to department and specialty stores [in Japan]. We feel like we’re ready for the next step.” The company in 2010 grew 20 percent over 2009.

Reese has built a loyal following in Japan, despite the fact that duty adds 30 percent to the price per unit. “We’ve worked hard to improve our quality and they seem very satisfied,” Reese said. “They have very high standards.”

Reese has grasped the subtle differences between Asian and American shoppers. “Japanese consumers are slightly more demure,” she said. “Certain aspects of the Japanese customer are a little more old fashioned. They like longer skirts, little cardigans and anything that’s prim.”

Other distinctions: Japanese women love color and texture. They like real fur and they buy head-to-toe looks. The Omotesando Hills store will have a boutique atmosphere with chandeliers and signature fabrics. Plenty will be fully represented, with casual and vintage-inspired shoes that launched in the fall, and a home collection, bath accessories and candles. “Our shoe business has gone through the roof,” Miguel said.

“Once the flagship opens, there will be more opportunities for freestanding stores and corners, and shop-in-shops in department stores,” Miguel said. “We’ll be moving further into Asia next year. We’ve started working with distributors in China and we’ll start opening stores in China in the latter part of the year.”

Asked whether more Tracy Reese units are slated for the U.S., Miguel said, “The U.S. economy has been in a state of flux. We’re on a growth trajectory again. U.S. expansion is coming up soon. This year, we’re focused on international expansion.” But the company isn’t interested in expansion for expansion’s sake. “It’s not about throwing up stores,” Reese said. “We’re finding a way to create a great experience and give excellent customer service.”

Reese wants to put her imprimatur on new products. “I’d like to do bedding,” she said. “We’ve started to do our own handbags. We dabble in jewelry. If the right partnership came along, we’d like to do jewelry, but we wouldn’t want to produce it ourselves.”

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