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Japan's Uniqlo hits the world's fashion capital

After New York and London, Japanese clothing retail giant Uniqlo brings its battle with European rivals H&M and Zara to the French capital, Paris, as it opens its first store in a busy shopping district around the world-famous Garnier Opera house.

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AFP - Japan clothes giant Uniqlo, which opens a flagship store in the heart of Paris on Thursday, is aiming for up to 10 more in the world's fashion capital as it takes on competitors such as Gap, H & M and Zara.

Tadashi Yanai, the billionaire president of Fast Retailing, which owns Uniqlo, told AFP he aimed to open "five to 10 big shops" in Paris, where he had originally planned to launch as far back as 2007 or 2008 "but it takes a long time to get authorisation."

The cheap chic brand popular with designer-conscious Japanese youth currently has a store in an office district on the fringes of the capital, and Yanai set no date for the opening of new stores.

But the new Uniqlo flagship is strategically located near the Garnier Opera house in the centre of a busy tourist and shopping district that is also home to large French department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.

Similar stores have already opened in New York and London. The next high-profile launch is Moscow in spring 2010. There are currently 875 Uniqlo stores worldwide, 761 of them in Japan.

No cost seemed to be spared in the run-up to the Paris launch, with ads on city buses and the underground and even Paris bakers selling the traditional baguette in paper bags announcing the "Tokyo to Paris" launch.

Referring to its European competitors H & M from Sweden and and Zara from Spain, whose lines sell like hot cakes and whose stores too are close to the new 2,000-square-metre (-yard) shop, Yanai said "I think there is a lot of room" for Uniqlo to muscle into the market.

"H & M and Zara just sell fashion. We are different, we are offering high quality clothing," added Yanai, who according to Forbes magazine is Japan's richest man.

"Our philosophy," he said, is that "a shirt, jacket or sweater are just spare parts which an individual combines to express their personality. That is why we seek to sell very basic but very high quality clothes."

He added: "It is up to us to offer products that are sufficiently attractive to seduce customers," citing high-tech items such as clothes made of a fine fabric that gives off heat or a feather-light coat weighing 270 grams (about 10 ounces).

Uniqlo, known for high-quality basics such as affordable cashmeres with quintessentially Japanese craftsmanship, manufactures its clothes mostly in Asia, in China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

For the Paris launch, customers are being offered cashmeres at less than 40 euros and men's jeans under 10 euros.

"We are the only company in the world able to offer products of this quality at low cost," Yanai said.
 

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