Banana Republic last week became the latest U.S. brand to plant its flag on the prestigious Avenue des Champs-Elysées here with the opening of its first French store at number 22, across the road from Abercrombie & Fitch.
Parent company Gap Inc. inaugurated the 16,000-square-foot flagship with a party marking Banana Republic’s ongoing expansion in Europe following the opening of a store in London in 2008 and Milan in 2010.
The San Francisco-based apparel chain expects its international division to account for 30 percent of revenues by 2013, compared with just under 20 percent presently. Beginning last year, Banana Republic products became available via an online store servicing 21 European countries, including France.
“France is very important to us: It’s the fourth-largest apparel market,” said Sonia Syngal, senior vice president and managing director of Gap Inc. Europe. “We’ve had very successful business here with Gap for almost 20 years now, so it’s always been in the strategy.”
The two-level corner unit in Paris showcases global women’s and men’s collections designed by its British-born creative director Simon Kneen, along with accessories, personal care products and the premium Monogram range.
A circular entrance decorated with black-and-white photographs of style icons like Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn leads into a section showcasing the essence of the store’s offer, such as white shirts for women and cashmere sweaters for men.
A sweeping staircase with iron railings and a retro-style lift lead to the spacious basement, which features white and black diamond marble floors and neoclassical arches. Dotted throughout are French Art Deco antiques and original artwork curated by the Michael Hoppen gallery in London.
“We are celebrating French history, and then also introducing the fact that we are very much an American brand grounded in New York design,” said Syngal. “It’s a really luxury hotel feel that we went after.”
Banana Republic is the latest U.S. brand to set out to conquer French consumers, traditionally reputed to be resistant to foreign clothing brands. In the last year, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister have all opened stand-alone units here.
Syngal said French consumers were now increasingly cosmopolitan and “much more open, much more interested” in American brands.
“We’ve learned a lot being here with Gap, and Banana Republic is, you could say, the chic sister of the brand, so it’s really our luxury offer, but in a very accessible way,” she said. “That’s really what we think will be remarkable to the French consumer, and we see that as an opportunity to play in an area where there’s not as much competition.”
Staff at the Paris store are fluent in more than 15 languages collectively, and it also boasts trained “personal stylists” to assist customers by appointment. Banana Republic has fine-tuned the collection for the French market.
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