Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Carolina Herrera is ready to sell some clothes.
The designer, who plans to open her first signature store on Madison Avenue in June, said Wednesday she had signed a licensing agreement with a Spanish apparel firm to develop a new gold-range line for men and women called CH Carolina Herrera, with plans for 40 freestanding stores throughout Europe within a few years.
The deal, a long-term license with STL of Ourense, Spain, calls for four CH Carolina Herrera stores to open in that country next year, followed by expansion throughout Europe, the U.S. and eventually Asia. If successful, the venture is expected to give Herrera a global retail presence over the next eight years.
“My perfume has been in Spain for 12 years, so the Carolina Herrera name is very well known,” Herrera said.
Herrera’s 20-year-old designer ready-to-wear firm includes women’s apparel and accessories designed in house, as well as licenses for fragrance, eyewear and furs, with a total retail volume estimated at $250 million.
While the designer already has a high profile internationally thanks to her fragrance, which includes 212 for men and women and a 12-year-old signature fragrance licensed to the Barcelona-based Puig Corp., her signature rtw is only sold in about 75 to 80 doors in the U.S. Her rtw distribution in Europe has been difficult, she said, because of high duties associated with shipping designer-priced clothes overseas.
As part of the license, CH Carolina Herrera flagships are slated for Madrid, Barcelona, London and Paris, where Herrera’s signature collection will also be sold in dedicated spaces alongside the secondary collection, said Claudia Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Carolina Herrera.
The vertically operated stores are expected to mirror the design of Herrera’s New York flagship, which is under construction at 954 Madison Avenue, the landmark Givenchy building that the designer bought in September.
The moves also mark the completion of two long-term goals of Herrera and Thomas, who joined Herrera in 1996 from Perry Ellis International, to bring back a line under the CH label and to open a freestanding boutique. Herrera’s initial bridge line had met some success in the early Nineties before fading away in 1993 . It was replaced in 1994 by a better-priced Studio line, which was discontinued in 1996.
“We have a global presence in fragrance,” Herrera said. “Now it is so exciting to have the fashion. People will be able to buy my clothes and not just see them in magazines. They can go to Madrid or Barcelona and say, ‘I am wearing a Carolina Herrera shirt,’ and then I will be in heaven.”
CH Carolina Herrera is priced in the gold range, about 30 percent lower than items in her signature line. It is priced to compete with popular Spanish labels like Loewe, Thomas said, as a luxury designer label.
It will launch with a spring-summer collection in February with a minimum of four locations in Spain, including Madrid and Barcelona, Herrera added.
The women’s collection will include a range of sportswear, day and evening looks, with retail prices averaging between $350 and $2,000, while the men’s line will include tailored clothing and sportswear with retail prices from $300 to $1,200. CH marks Herrera’s first venture in men’s sportswear design, although she has previously manufactured men’s accessories like neckties.
STL is a privately held retail and apparel group that was established in 1997 by brothers of designer Adolfo Dominguez. In 1998, the company launched Purification Garcia, a directional bridge line that is sold in 48 freestanding stores in Spain, as well as in 35 shop-in-shops in department stores there. It has a volume of about $50 million.
“To their minds, the Purification Garcia label would not work outside of Spain, but they recognized the global potential of Carolina Herrera,” Thomas said.
Herrera added that she was attracted to the STL organization based on the Purification Garcia business, which, because of its vertical operation, is able to quickly replenish stock and develop additional product based on the performance of trends at retail.
“Having the stores gives us opportunities to do things we might not have been able to on our own,” Thomas said. “For example, while we have not included jeans in Carolina Herrera, maybe we could make a pair of tailored jeans for the CH line, and if we have a great idea for a picnic basket, a beach towel or swimwear, we can do it. We are open to experimentation.”
Also appealing to Herrera was the environment of the Purification Garcia stores, which were designed by Christian Liagre, the Paris real estate developer who opened the multilevel Marques Avenue outlet center in 1993. She said they have a similar appeal to the aesthetic she is trying to achieve at her Madison Avenue site.
“The look is clean and sparse, but some of the stores also have beautiful fireplaces so that they are modern and cozy at the same time,” Herrera said.
But the look she hopes to achieve with her signature and CH stores is “a bit different.”
“We want them to feel like home,” Herrera said. “I don’t want a store that looks like a hospital, the kind of empty white space that you could just change the name from one designer to another, and it would be the same store. It needs to have some warmth and be very luxe, but not intimidating.”
While the licensee is expected to open 40 stores in Europe within the next few years, Herrera anticipates the second phase of the deal will start concurrently with a U.S. expansion through its own stores in major American markets and with shop-in-shop concepts with Herrera’s key retail clients.
Asia is targeted as the third phase of the deal, with hopes of opening a network of stores there in five to eight years, Thomas said.
“When we open the store on Madison Avenue, that will open doors for others in Europe, and we hope to have CH Carolina Herrera in New York, as well,” Herrera said. “The timing is right. The business is so strong and focused, and there is a market for Carolina Herrera at a more affordable price.”
The CH collection will be designed here and merchandised in Spain under STL’s direction. Herrera also worked with Fabion Baron to come up with logos and merchandising tools for the line, while STL is currently installing video conferencing technology to better communicate with Herrera’s design staff.

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