The retail power couple that first introduced United Colors of Benetton to the United States is now placing its bets on Bellevue.
 
Iraklis Karabassis and Yasmine Karabassis, principals of the Washington, D.C.-based IK Retail Group, have agreed to open a Piazza Sempione shop and a DNA 2050 shop in The Bravern, which is under construction in downtown Bellevue and scheduled to open in September.
 
Snagging the two stores is a coup for The Bravern developers because the two shops would be the first locations of their kind on the West Coast, bypassing fashion-minded Los Angeles.
 
Piazza Sempione, named after a street in Milan, Italy, sells women's clothing and accessories in several shops in Italy, Russia and the U.S., and is also available in select department stores. The brand -- in which dresses range from $300 to beyond $1,500 -- adorns celebrities, including actresses from "Ugly Betty," "Desperate Housewives" and "Will & Grace." DNA 2050 sells denim of different labels, with less expensive pricing than Piazza Sempione, but is still considered high-end.
 
The Karabassises are known worldwide for brand building, and they also lured Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, Dior and Gucci to The Collection at Chevy Chase, in Maryland, according to a December report in DC, a Modern Luxury Media magazine. LVMH tapped IK Retail for help with its foray into the U.S. market, the report said.
 
Iraklis Karabassis, who is Greek, said he used to be concerned about hiking-boots- and Gortex-clad Pacific Northwest shoppers.
 
But The Bravern's lineup of other luxury retailers, including Neiman Marcus, Jimmy Choo and Hermès, eased his mind.
 
"I want to believe that The Bravern is going to make a statement into the Seattle metro area of upscale boutiques and products," Karabassis told the Seattle P-I on Tuesday. "If I was coming with Piazza Sempione in a shopping mall that didn't have the tenant mix that we just talked about before, I would be totally lost."
Mark Netherland, senior investment manager for Bravern developer Schnitzer West LLC, is charged with delivering retail leases to the project.
 
"When Iraklis endorses something, it's something special. He's just a great merchant, and he knows retail," Netherland said. "That's the person we want operating retail on our project."
 
The retail market in the U.S. is soft right now. Luxury retailers are seeing double-digit sales declines. The Bravern is 78 percent leased and plans on opening 82 percent leased in September.
 
"Given the economic conditions, we feel very comfortable with where we are now," Netherland said. Luxury retailers "travel in packs, and it's very much a herd mentality. There is, for lack of a better term, safety in numbers. I think once Neiman Marcus has done their homework and selected a location, that opens the door for other retailers."
 
Current economic conditions present an exciting challenge, Karabassis said.
 
By September, Piazza Sempione will operate six U.S. shops, including the one in Bellevue, and one outlet. In 2010, Karabassis plans shops for Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami.
 
"Definitely, the situation is not the best to open shops, but myself as a person, I thrive through situations like that," he said.
 
Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/business/article/Bravo-Bravern-Luxury-shops-a-coup-for-Bellevue-1302211.php#ixzz20zNLQlEU