Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS — As part of a two-year U.S. expansion, Max Mara opened its eighth U.S. store, a 3,400-square-foot unit at the Galleria in Houston that is expected to reach $800 in sales per square foot by the end of its first year, according to Phillip Markey, managing partner in an investment group that owns the store.
Max Mara, a European giant hitting $920 million in sales last year with 600 boutiques worldwide, expects to open at least eight more stores in the U.S. by 1998.
This year, the firm sees three to six stores opening, in Manhasset, N.Y.; Las Vegas; Chicago, and Miami, among other locations. In 1998, units are planned for Boston, Beverly Hills, Dallas and Seattle. The Houston store opened March 20.
“The U.S. is the most important market right now,” said Luigi Maramotti, vice chairman and co-managing director of Max Mara. “It has an enormous base of very sophisticated women who are looking for subtle, classic designs that will not be out of style in a season.”
Max Mara’s U.S. stores are franchised except for flagships in New York, San Francisco and Palm Beach, Fla.
“Price is the premise of why I’m involved with the Max Mara license,” Markey explained. “This company is based upon good-quality, fashionable garments at a reasonable price.”
Max Mara sportswear generally is priced from $300 to $500, while cashmere coats are about $1,200.
The stores, which are designed by Italian architect Duccio Maria Grassi, have limestone floors, maple fixtures, cream leather sofas and chairs, and oriental area rugs.
Max Mara stores carry the company’s four collections: the signature Mara sportswear label; MM by Max Mara knits and separates; Sportmax, a more forward collection, and the Pianoforte cocktail and evening line. Stores also stock the full line of Max Mara accessories, including shoes and handbags.
The company hopes to build brand awareness with an advertising campaign that was shot by Steven Meisel and features Linda Evangelista. It broke in March fashion magazines. There are also ads on buses in New York.
Markey is the lead partner in the Max Mara store in Atlanta and holds the license for the Dallas store, which he said will go forward, depending upon the success of the Houston unit.
Markey also operates Versace stores in Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, a Versus unit in Houston and Versace Jeans Couture in Atlanta. There are also Dolce & Gabbana stores in Houston and Atlanta. Markey opened a new boutique at the Houston Galleria called ITR, which sells Ferre jeans and Exte.
“My master plan is to specialize in fine, upscale retail franchises,” Markey explained. “We feel Max Mara is a slightly more conservative customer” than Versace or Dolce & Gabbana. “Our portfolio is balanced.”
Markey said it was too early to gauge sales in the Houston store, which has been open five days.
“We find them to be very serious customers who buy the best part of the collection very rapidly,” Markey noted. “In the Pianoforte eveningwear collection, the most expensive item was hand-painted and it was $1,200. It sold first.”

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