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What is Christmas like in Italy? A first-time visitor could be forgiven for thinking it's more about six fashion-conscious fairies than about nativity scenes and La Befana, the old woman who flies on a broom and brings presents to children. The fairies are the stars of Winx Club, an Italian animated TV series now at the centre of an international media and merchandise empire. They have been described as a cross between Harry Potter and the Spice Girls, with a dash of Charlie's Angles thrown in. They are pretty, have a great sense of style and are strong-minded.   In Rome, the Winx fairies -- Bloom, Stella, Flora, Musa, Tecna and Aisha -- their boyfriends and the Trix, the evil trio of teenage witch sisters who are the enemies of the Winx Club, are everywhere. You can see them on TV, on DVDs, in music videos, in toy stores (where they are said to outsell Barbie), and in the cinema. "Winx -- The Secret of the Lost Kingdom," a full-length movie starring the fairies, opened in the No. 1 box office position in late November in Italy.    Soon you'll see Winx Club on the stock market too. The company that launched Winx Club in 2004, Rainbow SpA, had planned to list on the stock market in the autumn. Then came the subprime mess and the initial public offering was delayed. No new date has been set, but early 2008 is likely.   Rainbow is a growth phenomenon, thanks to the fairies. Iginio Straffi, Rainbow's founder, told the International Herald Tribune that the company made  16-million euros last year. The Winx Club cartoons are shown in 130 countries on six continents, incluing YTV in Canada, and merchandise sales have generated euros 1.5-billion over the last four years.   Rainbow's success is attracting attention. Recently, Tarak Ben Ammar, the Franco-Tunisian film producer and distributor who distributed "The Passion of The Christ" in France, took a 2 per cent stake in the little Italian company and reportedly plans to raise it to as much as 30 per cent. Hollywood interest at some point is inevitable if the fairies prove as durable, in the marketing sense, as they are cute. Rainbow's Straffi hopes to create a brand as long-lasting as Barbie. Given the fickle consumer behaviour of today's young children, that may be hard to pull off. But he's off to a good start.

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