US retailer Gap Inc is to open its first Italian stores in fashion centre Milan this year, with a further Rome outlet slated for 2011.

Although there are around 3,100 Gap stores worldwide, the Milan move represents the company's first foray into the Italian market and comes on the back of a healthy 2009 performance.

"With loyal shoppers already in London and Paris, we think Gap's brands will resonate strongly with Italian customers," said Gap Inc Europe and International Franchise president Stephen Sunnucks.

"We are excited to enter another market that's one of the top five apparel markets in the world."

Specifically, the retailer will open Gap and Banana Republic flagship stores side by side on Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Milan's prestigious shopping area, although the precise date has not been revealed.

Each of the stores will be wholly owned and operated by Gap Inc using the company's existing European teams and distribution infrastructure.

The Gap store will feature collections from Gap, GapKids, babyGap, GapBody and GapMaternity, while the Banana Republic outlet will house the women's and men's ready-to-wear collections, accessories and personal care products.

Plans have also been announced to bring an online shopping site for Gap and Banana Republic to the UK, which will also serve consumers in nine other European countries, including Italy.