Forever 21 on the Fast Track

Forever 21’s expanding profile takes center stage with the opening of its massive flagship in Manhattan’s Times Square. The estimated $2.3 billion fast-fashion giant has high expectations for the four-level, 91,257-sq.-ft. store: Reported first-year sales projections are in the $100 million-plus range.

Heavy traffic and long operating hours will help fuel revenue. Situated in the heart of one of the city’s busiest districts and most popular tourist destinations, Forever 21 is open until 2 a.m. on weekends and 1 a.m. on weekdays, and has 150 fitting rooms and 32 cash registers. (All reports to the contrary, the Times Square flagship is not the company’s largest unit. That honor goes to its 184,234-sq.-ft. store at Riverside Plaza, Riverside, Calif.)

The store—which takes up part of the space formerly occupied by Virgin Megastore—is sleek and contemporary looking. The all-white interior is punctuated with familiar New York City icons, including scaffolding, graffiti, mannequins dressed as street vendors and a genuine city taxi cab. The exterior is lit up with a giant LCD billboard whose interactive content has passers-by gawking. It’s spectacular, even by Times Square standards.

In recent years, the privately held, Los Angeles-based Forever 21 has looked to grow its reach beyond its core teen demographic by adding new collections and entering new merchandise categories. Recent additions include maternity clothes, and home categories are reportedly in the works. The retailer has expanded aggressively throughout the downturn, capitalizing on real estate vacancies and seeking out bigger boxes to accommodate its growing offerings. In July, for example, it moved from a 5,000-sq.-ft. space in Las Vegas’ Fashion Show Mall to a 120,000-sq.-ft. store.

The cavernous Times Square store reflects the breadth of Forever 21’s ambitions and its new template. It houses all of the company’s brands, from the 21 Men’s collection to the sophisticated Love 21 line, in shop-in-store styled environments, each with its own distinct visuals. A huge lipstick and compact announces cosmetics, while lingerie is displayed in a feminine setting, complete with lavender walls, crystal chandeliers and cabbage rose wallpaper. The kids’ department features an oversized tree house and glass jars filled with everything from marbles to gumballs. The overall effect—and feel—is more department store than specialty apparel retailer.

Forever 21 has nearly 500 stores in the United States. It sees plenty of room for expansion, believing it can support some 1,000 locations nationwide.

Also, similar to such international fast-fashion powerhouses as H&M and Mango, Forever 21 is moving to compete on the global front. It has opened stores in Japan, South Korea and China, and will enter Europe by year-end, with units in Birmingham, England, and Dublin. The retailer is expected to debut in London, Paris and Spain in 2011.