NICOLE FARHI AIMS FOR U.S. GROWTH

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Nicole Farhi is gearing up to attack the U.S. market, following the opening of a flagship store here.
The designer opened the 7,000-square-foot store in Bond Street in September to carry her three collections of women’s wear — Diversion casualwear, Nicole Farhi and Black-on-Black. The store also has her men’s wear line and accessories and a restaurant, aptly called Nicole’s, which has become one of London’s hottest eating places.
“It is the first time we are able to show all our collections the way we want them,” Farhi said.
The London opening is the catalyst for Farhi to expand further in Europe and the U.S., following healthy growth over the last year in the U.K., where the company has six freestanding stores and leased departments in most leading department stores.
Farhi had wholesale volume in the first half ended Oct. 1 of $7.45 million (4.6 million pounds), up 24.3 percent from 3.7 million pounds in the corresponding period a year earlier.
The company, which is owned by French Connection PLC, recently hired Michael Haight as president of Nicole Farhi U.S. to oversee its growth there. Haight previously was vice president of sales and marketing at DKNY. Farhi has had a 1,000-square-foot store in New York’s SoHo since the Eighties, but it’s situated between two French Connection stores.
The designer also wholesales her women’s and men’s wear to some U.S. department and specialty stores. Bergdorf Goodman recently put Farhi’s Black-on-Black collection in its windows and had a 75 percent sell-through in the first 10 days, Haight said. But the SoHo shop has been too small to present all of Farhi’s collections and the line has never been aggressively marketed throughout the U.S., Haight said.
As Stephen Marks, chief executive and founder of French Connection, bluntly put it: “In the U.S., no one knows Nicole Farhi is alive. We need to raise the awareness.”
First on the U.S. agenda is a freestanding Nicole Farhi flagship. The company is viewing sites on Madison Avenue and hopes to open late next year or early in 1996.
In fact, Marks is in New York this week looking for a site. The New York store would mirror the London flagship, with its restaurant, antiques, black-and-white marble floors and relaxed atmosphere, he added.
Farhi is starting to advertise in America, Haight said, and plans to begin aggressively selling the collections to U.S. department and specialty stores.
The difficulty will be where to position the line, since it is too expensive for bridge departments and neither well-known nor high-priced enough for designer areas, Haight said. He describes Farhi as “lifestyle dressing.”
“Americans have never known where I stand,” Farhi admitted. “I’m not an Armani or Jil Sander and not wacky like a Jean Paul Gaultier. We believe that by opening my own shop in New York, it will give me an identity in the eyes of the department store and then the consumer. But it has taken us 10 years in London to get to where we are,” she added. “We are in no hurry in the U.S.”

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