PARIS — With salad bowls sharing shelf space with handbags and folded sweaters, Calvin Klein’s massive new flagship here makes a major statement about the brand lifestyle — and the company’s ambitions in Europe.

This story first appeared in the June 20, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In fact, Klein said he’s just getting warmed up.

“There’s room for more than one store in Paris for sure,” he said in an interview. “We’re not saturated in Europe at all. We’re still at the beginning of our expansion. There are a number of major cities where we could have freestanding stores. I see lots of opportunities for growth in Europe in all of our businesses, not just Collection.”

European business currently accounts for about a third of Klein’s overall sales, which are estimated around $5 billion at retail.

The 5,800-square-foot company-owned boutique, which opens to the public today at 53 Avenue Montaigne, replaces a franchised Calvin Klein Collection unit that closed on the same street in 2000. Klein had opened his first flagship here in May 1997.

A warren of intimate rooms over two levels, the new boutique boasts a dramatic central staircase with a Barnett Newman-esque shaft of light at its center. Designed by John Pawson, who did Klein’s Madison Avenue flagship, the boutique features all the familiar elements: pure white walls, sandstone floors and sleek glass, metal and wood fixtures that resemble minimalist sculptures.

Shoppers enter a large area showcasing the women’s pre-fall collection, with anterooms off to the side showcasing cosmetics, footwear, eyewear, handbags, jeanswear and intimate apparel. The second floor houses the men’s black-label Collection, men’s jeanswear, underwear and the home collection, including tableware, towels, bedding and carpets.

Most striking is the eclectic way items are merchandised. A stand of mannequins at the entrance showcases collection items styled with jeanswear. Klein said he’s mixing it up because “that’s the way people dress today.”

Klein said all his company-owned flagships reflect the new strategy, including the oldest location near Dallas, which recently moved to larger digs.

Klein said he opted to remain on Avenue Montaigne because he “had a nice business there” and always liked the upscale strip, which boasts such retail tenants as Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Escada, Emanuel Ungaro, Marni, Pucci, Valentino, Krizia, Jil Sander, Céline and Prada.

“I’ve always felt Paris is the showcase city for Europe,” Klein said. “There are so many people who come to Paris. Paris is still the true capital of fashion in Europe.”

Klein characterized the new boutique as the first lightning bolt to announce his arrival in Europe with a new corporate structure. As reported, the company made moves recently to take its men’s and women’s collections in-house, take control of its wholesale operations and expand its presence throughout Europe and the Mideast.

Klein said London and Milan are immediate priorities for new Collection stores, which will also reflect the eclectic, lifestyle approach to merchandising. And besides opening more flagships, Klein is beefing up wholesale distribution in Europe.

Groupe Fremaux last fall began distributing Klein’s soft home items in Europe. Today, they can be found in France at Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Le Bon Marché and Samaritaine, and in the U.K. at Selfridges and House of Fraser. According to a Calvin Klein spokesman, home products are also coming soon to Harvey Nichols and Harrods in London, and distribution will be expanded soon to Switzerland, Spain, Greece and Saudi Arabia.

“[Home] is another big, important area that we’ve entered in Europe that’s really new,” Klein said. “It just completes the lifestyle.”

Klein was in Paris briefly on Tuesday to supervise final touches on the store, but he whisked himself back to Milan to prepare for his men’s wear show there next Wednesday. Klein has showed his men’s collection in Italy since 1998.

Would he contemplate showing his women’s wear in Europe someday? “I’ve thought about it,” he said. “This isn’t the moment. There’s always the possibility. I’d like to do that sometime.”

Asked if he would show his women’s collection in Paris, he replied: “It’s hard to say,” explaining that Klein’s offices and showrooms in Europe are in Milan. But, he mused: “Paris gets everyone. New York doesn’t get everyone, and neither does Milan get everyone. In any case, I’m still showing [women’s] in New York.”

This week’s “soft” opening of the Paris boutique will be followed by additional marketing efforts in France and an opening party in October to coincide with the ready-to-wear shows here.”

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