M Missoni, the more affordable line from luxury fashion brand Missoni, is to open its own retail stores.

The line has experienced an average annual growth rate of 50 percent since 2003 and is favoured by celebrities like Nicky Hilton and Jessica Simpson. Licensee Valentino Fashion Group is investing in a new retail strategy in an effort to expand the range, and will open the first M Missoni boutique in New York’s Soho this spring. Four more stores will follow later this year in Asia and the Middle East.

“We are opening in the US first because this is M Missoni’s biggest market, accounting for 45 percent of sales,â€? chief executive of Valentino Fashion Group, Michael Norsa told WWD.

This year, the company will also open franchised stores in Bangkok, Kuwait and Jakarta and either in Shanghai or Beijing. According to Norsa “Asia is where the growth isâ€?. Onward Kashiyama will distribute M Missoni in Japan, where there are plans for four shop-in-shops this year and ten over the next three years. Although Asia is responsible for 12 percent of the line’s sales, VFG’s goal it to bring that percentage up to 20.

Meanwhile, Italy accounts for 27 percent of sales and the rest of Europe for 16 percent. Norsa thinks that the line will generate sales of €30 million in 2006, quadruple the amount in 2001.

M Missoni sales account for 20 percent of Missoni’s total sales. The line was first launched in 1999, when the brand decided to focus on women’s wear and cancelled its men’s wear collection.

At present, the line is sold at 709 sale points worldwide. Major department stores like Galeries Lafayette, Harrods, Selfridges, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman all stock M Missoni, as do 130 specialty stores. Prices range from $495 (£280) to $595 for a dress, $290 for knitwear and between $495 and $795 for jackets. “Our effort is to keep (affordable) prices, with a Made in Italy production,� Graziano de Boni, president and CEO for VGF US, told WWD.

VGF has a long-standing relationship with the Missoni family that dates back to 1985. It produced and distributed the sportswear collection Example by Missoni and the diffusion Missoni Uomo and Missoni Donna lines. “This is more than a license, we are friends with the Missoni family and this helps grow the business,� said Norsa.

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