When Louis Vuitton opens a store, it has a happy knack of getting people’s attention. The brand’s new London flagship is no exception. CEO Yves Carcelle has ensured that the store, which is estimated to cost $43m, has received its money’s worth in attention. The 15,000 sq ft ‘Maison’ manages to be a coherent brand statement while catering to Vuitton’s numerous factions of fans. How was this achieved? The store’s architect Peter Marino’s master plan was to imagine the store as the home of a collector who loves only the finest and rarest things in life, with retail and art mingling seamlessly.
The first floor is devoted to womenswear and shoes, but houses a library the best of British contemporary art books, as well as bespoke commissions by artists including Anish Kapoor and Gary Hume. On the lower ground floor is the men’s “club area” and a floor-to-ceiling painting by Gilbert & George. The ground floor is devoted to accessories and with original artworks from names like Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami. The store’s second floor will be the private client suite, accessible only by invitation. To mark the opening Katie Grand has curated a “mini-retrospective” of Marc Jacobs’s designs for Louis Vuitton during his 12-year tenure. And just to be sure that the Maison has everyone’s attention, Carcelle and Bernard Arnault hosted a gala dinner crammed with paparazzi darlings and high society to celebrate.
Some have suggested that this lavish brand statement feels a little insensitive in a market only just beginning to show signs of recovery. But Carcelle argues that what’s housed within this excessive retail experience is “reasonable” luxury, where an average bag costs £1,000 or a smaller wallet is £300. Not easily affordable to all, but certainly not out of the reach of most.
Luxury companies may be recovering – but they have not picked up where they left off. In recent times we’ve become accustomed to openings in emerging luxury markets; Shanghai, Beijing, Abu Dhabi. But emphasis is, for the moment, on investing in the productivity of existing stores rather than expansion, what analysts are calling “retail optimisation”.
During the week that Louis Vuitton opened its doors, Mulberry announced that it would be moving its London flagship to a larger, improved venue just around the corner from the Louis Vuitton store on New Bond Street. And in New York, Longchamp unveiled a tip-to-toe revamp of its flagship on Madison Avenue.
Despite lavish appearances, it’s actually a terribly sensible move for Carcelle: focus is on making the most of current retail space; making it more productive and effective at brand-strengthening, rather than making its stores and brand ubiquitous. Reason and reasonable might not be two words that luxury companies want to associate with their brands, but in Carcelle’s Maison, they become something rather exciting – and no doubt lucrative.