ARMANI GOLD: Although soccer players are usually de rigueur in Giorgio Armani’s front row, the Italian designer played host to Italian gymnast Igor Cassina at Monday’s Emporio Armani show instead. The 27-year-old made history this summer at the Athens games when he became the first Italian ever to win gold on the horizontal bars. Originally from Milan, Cassina took a quick break from training for the European finals to attend his first fashion show. “I’m working on a new element for my next competition,” Cassina said. Knowing Armani’s penchant for sports, it may not be long before Cassina is doing a double twist in an Armani T-shirt. Rounding out the front row were British actors Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Evans.

COLD FRONT: Milan fashion week got off to a sluggish — and grumpy — start on Monday. Strikes by Alitalia workers delayed the arrival of top editors from Elle, l’Officiel and other French magazines and otherwise wreaked havoc with a city already prone to gridlock. Adding to the woes was a steady snowfall slowing the advance of Town Cars and staining new suede shoes. Tempers flared outside of Prada Monday night as editors arriving for the second show were asked to wait outside under a damp snowfall. “Just let us in,” pleaded Vanity Fair’s fashion director Anne McNally.

CLICKS AND BRICKS: Louis Vuitton, which will open its biggest store in the world on the Champs-Elysées in Paris in October, also has big plans online. WWD has learned that Vuitton is preparing a new version of its Web site which will be equipped for e-commerce. Initially the site will focus on selling leather goods, and only in France for starters, a Vuitton spokeswoman confirmed Monday. The forthcoming launch explains the French firm’s recent spurt of lawsuits aimed to stamp out sales of counterfeits online. Last month, Vuitton won a case in Paris district court in which Google was asked to pay Vuitton 200,000 euros, or $262,000 at current rates, for misleading advertising, unfair competition and trademark counterfeiting. Vuitton took issue with Google’s ability to link the Vuitton name to ads sold to third parties.

This story first appeared in the February 22, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

YOUNG AT HEART: Celine, the fashion house owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is flirting with affordable chic — with handbags priced in the juicy ranges of “accessible luxury,” à la Coach. A new, younger line of clothes and accessories, dubbed Miss Celine, arrives in stores later this month. Described as more “girly” than the main line, it targets twentysomethings with prices ranging from 360 euros, or $471.60 at current rates, for a handbag to 650 euros, or $851.50, for a trenchcoat.

GUIDING GUCCI: Gucci is continuing its tradition of promoting from within in the post-Domenico De Sole and Tom Ford era. A company spokeswoman confirmed that Gucci has promoted Monica Ulmi to fill the worldwide merchandising director slot left vacant by Tom Mendenhall last year. Ulmi has worked at Gucci since 1996, most recently in the position of leather goods merchandising director.

H&M’S IRISH DEBUT: Ireland is lucking out this week with its first H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB store. On Thursday, the popular Swedish fast-fashion retailer will unveil a 17,492-square-foot store at the Rushmere shopping center in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. H&M has agreed to a 15-year lease at Rushmere’s new $44 million extension. Other retailers within the new complex include Topshop, HMV and Dorothy Perkins.

CASHMERE CHARM: Since the Milan-based investment fund Charme bought Ballantyne last year, the group has been examining ways to revamp and modernize the venerable cashmere company. Now it’s focusing on retail. Charme executives said during the Milan shows that Ballantyne’s first “contemporary” flagship will open on London’s Bond Street in July. “We chose London because we are a Scottish label, and we don’t want to seem like we are Italianizing the brand,” said Matteo di Montezemolo, the son of Charme founder Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.