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LAS VEGAS-When Liz Claiborne decided to open its first store for Juicy Couture, a clothing brand made popular by its high-end terrycloth sweat suits, the New York City apparel giant chose Las Vegas. The store opened in October with as part of a new wing in Simon Property Group’s Forum Shops at Caesars, near another Liz Claiborne concept in the center, Lucky Brand Jeans.

By many accounts in the industry, the store has been widely successful. One industry observer who asked not to be identified estimated the sales per-sf at the 2,186-sf store between $2,200 and $3,000, a number that eclipses the already lofty $1,400-plus average figure at the mall. (Liz Claiborne executives declined to comment for this article.)

In a recent quarterly conference call Liz Claiborne officials acknowledged that they are looking to open more of the brand’s stores. “We are aggressively seeking locations for three-to-five Juicy stores in 2005,” said Trudy Sullivan, an executive vice president at the company. The Las Vegas store “continues to exceed our expectations,” she said.

Three-to-five stores would likely just be the beginning of the chain’s expansion, Maria Driscoll, a Standard & Poor’s retail analyst, told GSR. “In the contemporary space, it’s one of the hottest brands,” she said. “They could easily have 75 to 100 without worrying about cannibalizing anything.”

Juicy Couture’s ability to expand has been enhanced by the brand’s wider range of products. When Liz Claiborne acquired the label in 2003, it was mainly known for its women’s sweat suits, she said, but now those outfits account for less than 50% the brand’s sales, since it has expanded into accessories, other apparel, menswear and children’s clothing, Driscoll pointed out.

Meanwhile, the average retail price of Juicy products has increased 20% over the last two years. As a result, Liz Claiborne will probably only look to the country’s top 250 retail centers, both enclosed and open-air, to expand the chain, Driscoll said. “You want to keep it in a high-end, luxury environment,” she said.

Beth Montgomery, a retail analyst who covers Liz Claiborne for SG Cowen, told GSR that the company’s expansion plans for Juicy might be less ambitious and she predicts that it will roll out about 30 units. “I would be surprised if it’s more than that,” she said.

Logical locales for other stores would be Los Angeles; Miami Beach, FL; and other parts of the South that have strong tourism draws. High rent prices might prohibit a New York City store, Montgomery said.

“They are probably going to do an outdoor lifestyle center that has a touristy feel to it,” she said. “They want a hip location to match the brand. It’s probably a hip enough concept that they’d be careful about putting it into too many malls.”

But Maureen Crampton, director of marketing at the Forum Shops, said that she could see the concept in other Simon malls, in part, because the store in her center attracts a variety of age groups. “I don’t think this success is just because of the tourists,” she said. “Based on the age range, it would work in a variety of other shopping centers.”

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