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US fashion brand J. Crew returns to Asia to open 2 new Hong Kong stores

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HONG KONG - U.S. fashion retailer J. Crew opened two stores in Hong Kong on Wednesday, marking the company's return to Asia after it pulled out of Japan six years ago.

J. Crew is the latest Western brand to set up in the city notorious for high rents as it explores future expansion in the lucrative China market.

The company, known for being one of Michelle Obama's favourite brands, opened a 3,250 square foot (302 square meters) women's store in an upscale shopping mall in Hong Kong's financial district. It also opened a 2,800 square foot men's store several blocks away.

The company's Asia expansion is a part of a wider push to grow internationally and comes after it pulled out of Japan in 2008, where a local partner operated shops under license.

The company plans to open up to six stores in Hong Kong in the next five to six years. It opened three in the U.K. last year and is looking next at Paris, CEO Mickey Drexler said.

Drexler said the company would "eventually" expand into China although it has no specific plans yet and is still studying the market.

The company joins a host of other international retail brands that have opened recently in Hong Kong as a stepping stone to China, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Tommy Bahama, Forever 21, Victoria's Secret and Britain's Topshop.

Hong Kong is a popular shopping destination for mainland China's newly affluent because of low taxes and reputation for authentic products.

"I think there's certainly a call for our merchandise" in China, Drexler said. "I think we'd most likely go to Shanghai first," he said.

The company is adding a women's size triple-0 to accommodate smaller Asian figures, Drexler said.

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