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GAP Inc. Invades France With Cheap, Chic Clothes

WITH the 50th anniversary of D-Day approaching, Parisian clothing retailers are calling the arrival of a new American shop in the French capital's fashionable 16th arrondissement ``the second American landing.''

The store is the first French bridgehead of the formidable United States flotilla, The GAP Inc. With 1,300 Gap, BabyGap, and Banana Republic shops firmly planted on US soil, the California-based retailer known for simplicity and quality opens April 28 on the tony rue de Passy in the city that still likes to think of itself as the world's fashion capital.

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The new 4,300 square-foot store follows a small Gap ``test'' boutique that opened last September in the flagship Galeries Lafayette department store. Gap's foray into French territory came after word circulated of French visitors to the US returning home with suitcases of inexpensive (by French standards) Gap clothing that fits a French taste for simple, understated, and classic sportswear.

Gap jeans, shirts, and sweaters will still sell for more in Paris than the same items in the US, given an 18 percent value-added tax and customs duties topping 10 percent. Making up for the price difference, some French shoppers say, is the American concept of comfortable, customer-oriented shopping the Gap represents. For example Gap jeans come in varied lengths, unlike most brands found in French stores. And Parisians discovering the Gap's signature stacks of goods won't find any of the ``Don't touch the folded merchandise'' signs visible in some Paris boutiques.

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