By  on September 26, 2011

NEW YORK — Mauboussin’s worldwide chairman Alain Nemarq will always remember that the opening of the brand’s first U.S. retail store in October 2008 occurred just as the country was in the midst of one of its most dire financial crises in recent history.

But he’s trying to erase that memory, beginning with a complete remodeling of the firm’s Madison Avenue store. The new look ditches what Nemarq calls a “dark” time for luxury architecture — he referred to the store’s previous design as a “safety box” where passersby were unable to see the inside of the boutique from the street — in favor of one with white accents, custom-dyed scarlet rugs and French graffiti plastered in bright red paint across exposed brick walls.

With the redesign of its five-story Madison Avenue townhouse at 63rd Street here, Mauboussin is looking to be more “inviting,” according to Nemarq, who, in addition to celebrating a decade with the brand, is keen for Mauboussin to shed its intimidating reputation and skew toward a newer, younger and potentially more female customer — as opposed to the traditional male one who would “buy a trophy for another trophy.”

To execute this vision, Nemarq commissioned architect Regis Pean and artist Jay Lohmann, who focused on red. In addition to the rugs and graffiti, handmade red and red-and-white polka-dot oversize satin chairs are placed throughout two of the building’s three retail floors (the remaining two are an office and a reception space). There’s also a fiber optic chandelier with hand-knotted bows in tonal reds made by a U.K.-based artist and an elevator with a tufted satin wall with life-size vibrant French caricatures.

“The woman has completely changed in the last 10 to 15 years. The world has changed. It used to be a man buying a trophy to give to another trophy as a way to express and prove his strengths and power,” Nemarq said, seated in one of the polka-dot easy chairs on the first floor of the townhouse. “Now the woman is becoming the customer and buying pieces for herself. It’s a very big change. I’m the creative guy and everything is designed by me and I need to feel that a woman is comfortable with my product.”

He’s observed that when most women self-purchase, they will choose a ring — and that price has to be different than when a man is buying a piece of jewelry for her as a gift, which to him, tends to be more extravagant.

Enter the more attainably priced Cocotte and Le Premier Jour collections, where pieces start at $495 for a white gold ring with three rows of mini-balls and go up to about $3,245. Both are made up of rings fashioned from white, yellow and rose gold, some featuring the brand’s signature star in diamonds.

There’s also the seven-piece Vraiment Toi (“Really You”) line that retails from $1,625 to $2,495 — which Nemarq calls “the new engagement rings” — that are showcased in white cases and black lacquer treasure boxes sitting atop fluted stems made of champagne-colored nickel. These rings feature no diamonds as the center stone, instead containing oversize, semiprecious amethyst, aquamarine, rose morganite or smoky quartz as the focal points, set in either white or pink gold with a thin pavé diamond border.

Classic engagement rings — including a $181,280 4-carat cushion cut diamond — remain a large portion of the business and the entire third floor is dedicated to the category. Asked about how he plans to proceed with traditional bridal jewelry offerings, given the current state of the economy and gold prices in particular, Nemarq called it a “big headache” for him and all fine jewelers around the world.

The company has had to increase prices slightly over the past year to compensate for the rising costs of raw materials, although the brand has absorbed some of the difference. Mauboussin uses strictly 18-karat gold in its pieces, but Nemarq is open to using 14-karat in the future — as well as incorporating more platinum.

“I’m more concerned about the next six months. We don’t know what will happen,” Nemarq said, adding that for a new engagement ring collection launching in February, gold and platinum styles will be priced exactly the same for the first time in the brand’s history.

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