updated 5 Mar 2011, 06:56
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Gap opens Japan flagship store

TOKYO - US fashion chain Gap opened its Japanese flagship store on Thursday, inviting pop star Avril Lavigne to add glamour to an event that saw hundreds of youngsters camp outside the shop overnight.

The four-storey shop in the heart of Tokyo's glitzy Ginza shopping district aims to position Gap strongly against other labels dubbed "fast-fashion" in Japan, such as the locally-based Uniqlo, Sweden's H&M and Spain's Zara.

To help draw crowds to the blue-and-white glass building, the company gave away 200 pairs of jeans designed together with Lavigne, the chart-topping Canadian singer-songwriter who has also designed perfumes.

"I queued up from 6:00 am and it was worth waiting," gushed Yuko Sawakata who received one of the special-edition jeans from Lavigne. "I'm a fan of Avril and I still can't believe it. It's like a dream!"

The 1,435-square-metre (15,440-square-foot) store, with men's, women's and baby fashion, is the company's biggest in Japan, a market the San Francisco-based company first entered in the mid-1990s.

"Japanese consumers are among the most astute fashion consumers in the world," said Gap's Asia-Pacific president John Ermatinger.

"Japan's shoppers expect to find American casual style clothes that can be worn in different places - to work, going out and of course on the fashionable streets of Ginza," he wrote on the company's blog.

Japan's economic troubles since its heyday in the late 1980s - and especially since the global downturn - have battered many top luxury brands, while affordable fashion has made strong inroads.

"Fast fashion has enjoyed popularity, fuelled by the entry of foreign newcomers," said Kana Sasaki, investment analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

"They have entered Japan at a good time when consumers have been more inclined toward low-priced products and savings."

Sasaki, however, said there have been signs of change recently in the Japanese apparel industry, with higher-priced products gradually regaining momentum amid an economic recovery.

"As the Japanese apparel market is still large, brands that offer products with a good balance between being fashionable and affordable will be able to compete well in Japan," she said.

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