A fashion war is brewing, with European firms increasingly battling it out in the United States for trendy young Americans' business. The latest entry is Mexx, the Dutch retailer acquired by Liz Clairborne in 2001. This month, it will open the first of three stores planned for the New York metropolitan area; starting next year, it will expand to other cities.

Mexx follows Sweden's Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) and Spain's Zara to these shores. Their Euro-inspired, trendy and moderately prices styles caught on fast, with H&M stores multiplying in malls across the country. Zara, with 10 stores, six of which are in New York, is fast on its heels. And now comes Mexx, with its $24 knit shirts and $199 faux shearling-trimmed coats.

From a style perspective, “they aren't really that different” from H&M and Zara, says Kurt Barnard, president of Retail Forecasting, a consulting firm in Upper Montclair, N.J. There's also little difference when it comes to demographics and real estate requirements. “They're all after the same customer” — fashion-forward women and men between 20 and 40 years old. What's different about Mexx, notes Barnard, is that it is backed by Liz Claiborne Inc.

Mexx, which features the latest styles for men and women, has sales operations in 40 countries in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, Canada and the Middle East. It sells is products in almost 100 company-owned and franchised stores, 37 factory outlets and about 6,000 retailers.

It also has grand plans for the United States. Opening soon are 10,000-square-foot stores on Fifth Avenue and in Greenwich Village. A third, 4,500-square-foot space, is planned for Simon Property Group's Westchester Mall in White Plains, N.Y. Mexx spokeswoman Margaux Baran wouldn't reveal other planned sites.

Baran says Mexx is targeting U.S. customers who are shopping at Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Abercrombie & Firch or American Eagle Outfitters.