Byline: Miles Socha

TORONTO — Kookai, one of France’s biggest fashion chains, opened its first branch in North America here last fall, and so far, it has been performing “above plan.”
The store’s pre-Christmas volume was so strong it nearly ran out of fall merchandise and had to order more end-of-season goods to sell through January, according to Paulina Singh, the Toronto store manager.
Singh said many well-traveled Canadians are already familiar with the Kookai brand and are receptive to it. The merchandise attracts a lot of women in their late 20s, but also women in their 30s and 40s who want a new look, she said.
The Toronto store, considerably larger than most European Kookai locations, carries a complete range of sportswear and outerwear, Singh said. This spring, it will also stock shoes and handbags.
The 1,500-square-foot store, which will be expanded to 2,800 square feet this spring, is the first location planned by restaurateurs Fritz and Hanna Trachtenberg, who recently obtained distribution rights for Kookai in the province of Ontario.
Two additional Toronto locations will open this year, with others to follow elsewhere in Ontario, said Fritz Trachtenberg. The high profile, fashion-forward line is sold in more than 400 stores in about 40 countries.
Trachtenberg expects the first shop, located in a freestanding gingerbread-style house in the city’s upscale, tourist-filled Yorkville shopping district, will do $1 million Canadian ($703,000 U.S.) in retail sales in the first year.
“With a price range as low as we are for imported French fashion, I think we have a niche,” he said. “You can buy very cheap fashion or designer goods. Kookai just fits in between this price.”
In Canadians dollars, jackets will retail for about $289 to $399 ($203-$281 U.S.), skirts about $99 to $149 ($70-$105 U.S.), pants from $139 to $209 ($98-$208 U.S.) and knitwear from $99 to $279 ($70-$196 U.S.).
This is not the first time Kookai has been in Canada. Reitman’s, a chain of low- and mid-priced stores, had operated four Kookai stores in Montreal in the late 1980s in a move to pricier goods, but closed them all last year.
“I believe that it is very difficult for a store to have one brand like Kookai,” Trachtenberg acknowledged, referring to the Paris-based company’s frequent deliveries — every six weeks. “To follow this schedule from [North America] is too cost intensive.”
He said he has overcome this difficulty by having an office and active partner in Europe. The Trachtenbergs recently relocated to Toronto from their native Munich. Their Kookai partner in Munich is Toma Laurent, who distributes the Walter Steiger line of shoes in Europe and also owns one Kookai location. — Fairchild News Service