Lifestyle & Culture

In Europe, luxury fashion brands eschew e-commerce for prime locations in Paris, Milan and London

Call it the Amazon Syndrome: The culture, the economy and the Internet are conspiring to limit brick-and-mortar retail expansion in the United States.

In Europe, it’s the reverse. International apparel and luxury goods retailers are seeking aggressive B&M growth in Europe, fueled by brands with international popularity. And with good reason. A recent worldwide study of 6,400 consumers across four continents, conducted by LuxHub, found that 82 percent of respondents bought luxury fashion goods primarily in stores, while only 16 percent preferred buying online.

The study determined 89 percent of offline consumers – including the influential and very much online millennial generation – are motivated by the touch and feel of exclusive products, while 32 percent cited the shopping experience as important. Online shoppers, meanwhile, are first attracted by the bargains they find, followed by the convenience of tapping or clicking what they want.

So international brands are aggressively expanding their brick-and-mortar activities in the major European fashion centers. Kate Spade New York, the once protean accessories label that spiraled down into ordinariness in the U.S. as it bounced around among the failed Liz Claiborne group of brands, has splashed into Britain’s fashion scene with a new flagship store on Regent Street, London’s most elegant retail address.

The brand may have dropped from the high-fashion status in recent years to become a mall fixture in the U.S., but it left no doubt at which European markets it is now taking aim, with the luxurious two-floor, 4,000-square-foot space on London’s most prestigious shopping corridor. Kate Spade CEO Craig Leavitt described Regent Street both as “a real magnet” for U.K. tourists from outside of London, as well as for European and international tourists. “That’s why we’re so excited, we’re going to have a lot more exposure to the customer who’s looking for us, and who maybe knows our brand,” he told Women’s Wear Daily. This is an opportunity to shop it in London while she’s traveling, particularly that consumer who is from Continental Europe, where we’re just beginning our expansion.”

He also could have said “Asian tourists” – big-spending Korean, Japanese and Chinese consumers who are carrying the international luxury shopping market practically by themselves. And that has led to a few other American and British fashion brands expanding their retail footprints, as well.

• Last fall, Coach USA opened its first Paris flagship, a 6,460-square-foot, two-level space on tres chic Rue Saint-Honoré near the Hotel Costes, termed “the fashion crowd’s favorite” by none other than WWD.

coach-rue-saint-honoré-paris-flagshipIt’s Coach’s third European location, following London and Madrid. But Paris is, well, Paris. “I think this is a pivotal moment for our company,” Coach Europe president Nigel Darwin told the powerful industry trade mag. “Paris is important on a number of levels, not only in terms of brand positioning in France but also worldwide. In the U.S., the brand is extremely well-established. In Europe, we are at a different stage of our journey, which started only four years ago.”

As for Europe, Darwin said, “Europe is trading extremely well. We see double-digit growth in the region.”

To that point, Coach executives said they are next hoping to find locations in Munich and Milan, “sooner rather than later. Paris may be Paris, but Milan is the new center of prestige international fashion.

• Already new there is House of Givenchy.

20150922-113710-1983251976Givenchy opened its first Italian flagship on the exclusive Via Sant’Andrea, a few steps away from Milan’s fashion avenue, Via Montenapoleone. Givenchy said it plans to add the brand’s first unit in London at the beginning of 2017.

Because you have to go big in Milan, or don’t go at all, the new Givenchy flagship has a large fish tank covering almost an entire room, because – just, well, because. So the 4,320-square-foot store, located in a Milanese palazzo, is said to be reminiscent of an art gallery with a number of distinct rooms of varying color schemes and architectural lines. There are mirrored stairs, sleek highly lacquered zebrawood, concrete shelving and, says the description, stout merchandised podiums “ranged symmetrically before a large block, recalling pews before an altar.”

The 64-year-old fashion house – which once dressed Audrey Hepburn and is now dressing Kim Kardashian (fashion follows the fashions) – has set its European expansion plans around Italy and the U.K. “These are two of Europe’s most important fashion centers with highly style-conscious resident populations,” says CEO Philippe Fortunato. “They have a history of creativity and trend leadership while attracting tourists from around the globe.” So Givenchy plans to open its first London store at the beginning of 2017 and is rumored to be considering Rome next.

• Another ultra-high-fashion house, Alexander McQueen, has opened its first Paris store, on Rue Saint-Honoré, across the street from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

1-9The Paris fashion strip is, as already noted, the home of the new Coach boutique and is also welcoming new stores from Tory Burch, & Other Stories and Mulberry. “The time is right, as business in Europe is strong at the moment,” said Jonathan Akeroyd, Alexander McQueen’s chief executive officer. “[Paris is] truly an important fashion city for us.”

The 5,300-square-foot store is the British label’s largest. Among its design elements are Victorian-style glass display cases dotted across the ground level on a floor made of cracked black marble and black gloss-lacquered parquet. The merchandise assortments are also displayed in large wall niches made of pink and white onyx. The space opens up to a small garden terrace in the back.

• Also from Britain, department store brand John Lewis is expanding around the continent for the first time.

John Lewis is opening seven concept shops in the Netherlands’ de Bijenkorf flagships in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, with additional launches planned in the next couple of years for Eindhoven, Utrecht, Amstelveen and Maastricht.

The shops, best described in “a shop within a shop” because they’re self-contained, single-brand presentations, with their own staffing and merchandising and often with their own hard walls, will be 300 to 500 square feet and feature John Lewis’ home and lifestyle collections, including bed, bath, living and gifting.

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