Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — Club Monaco reportedly is close to signing a lease to take over the Bijan space at 699 Fifth Avenue.
The location, between 54th and 55th Streets, is among the few large spaces available on the increasingly visible international stage that Fifth Avenue has become.
Club Monaco has been competing against Kenneth Cole for the space.
“We are looking pretty heartily at several opportunities in the neighborhood, Bijan being one of them,” said a Kenneth Cole spokeswoman. “There are a few spaces in the running.” She declined to identify the others.
In July, Liz Claiborne disclosed plans to buy a 7.4 percent stake in the publicly traded Kenneth Cole Productions. Cole will need a large showcase for its products, since Claiborne and Cole in August announced a major licensing deal for Claiborne to develop Kenneth Cole women’s apparel.
However, Liz Claiborne’s deep pockets might not be enough to sway the landlord, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which is said to be leaning toward Club Monaco, a Canadian chain that now has the added cachet of being owned by Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.
“They [Starwood] had to pull the trigger and decide whether to lease the store to Club Monaco or Kenneth Cole,” said a source close to the negotiations. “The plans and drafts are going back and forth between Starwood and Club Monaco.”
The Bijan store has 4,312 square feet on the ground floor, 3,484 square feet on the mezzanine and a 2,027-square-foot basement. It has been a fixture on Fifth Avenue since 1983, known for its by-appointment-only policy and flashy ultraluxe products, such as a $500,000 set of alligator handbags.
Sources said there was a possibility of expanding the retail space vertically into the building’s second and third floors, which are now used for offices. Sources said Club Monaco has also leased space in a Starwood property in California. Starwood executives did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.
Polo Ralph Lauren executives could not be reached on Wednesday, but in August, Michael J. Newman, vice chairman and chief operating officer of the company, told WWD, “Club Monaco is going to be a very important part of our growth strategy in addition to Polo Sport and the Polo Jeans stores we are opening. We are very aggressively looking at locations throughout the U.S. for Club Monaco.”
In an earlier interview, Newman indicated that Club Monaco had the potential to become a chain with 250 to 500 units.
Club Monaco, which did $90 million in sales for the year ended Jan. 31, has a reputation for bringing trendy clothing and accessories to the market quickly at moderate to better prices. The chain has about 125 company-owned and franchised stores in Canada, the U.S. and Asia. Of the 125 units, only 13 are in the U.S.
Club Monaco plans to add five to 10 stores in 1999, then accelerate the rollout next year, according to Carol Pope Murray, an apparel analyst at Salomon Smith Barney.