By  on February 8, 2007

ROME — Bottega Veneta's biggest store in Europe has officially reopened here, the first of 10 store openings scheduled for this year.

The luxury goods company will relocate the Florence store by April; open boutiques in Munich and Puerto Vanuz, Spain, in the first half, and renovate the Rodeo Drive store in Los Angeles in the fall.

In addition, Bottega this spring will open a second flagship in Tokyo's Ginza district, which will become its biggest store in the world, covering almost 10,000 square feet over three floors. The company already counts 42 boutiques in Japan.

Other projects in Asia include a new boutique in Singapore, one in Beijing and the relocation of two stores in Hong Kong to bigger spaces.

"We are tripling the space of those stores to accommodate the expansion of our product categories," said Patrizio Di Marco, Bottega's chief executive officer. "We are aiming at larger stores wherever it is possible — a logical and commercial strategy for us."

The Rome boutique, which covers 4,320 square feet on two levels, is the first to have an area exclusively dedicated to the new furniture division, launched in Milan last spring, and a VIP room. "We have other flagship stores with small furniture-designated areas, but this particular location has an entire room for this new product category," said Bottega's creative director, Tomas Maier.

The Rome store is located in the pedestrians-only, triangular piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina.

"This is the ideal location as the square mirrors the spirit of the boutique: Both the piazza and the store feel like a cozy and refined living room within the city," said Di Marco. "This boutique is almost like an apartment, a walk-in closet, with individual and differentiated rooms. It offers a personalized approach in line with the Bottega Veneta philosophy."

Maier described the square as "discreet and elegant" and "an address that all Romans know," versus "being an obvious tourist" spot. Di Marco said that, in the Rome store, customers are split evenly between tourists and locals.

While he did not rule out a future retail presence also in the main shopping thoroughfare of Via Condotti, Di Marco said he has always been partial toward the existing location. "The Rome boutique was one of the original 21 stores under the previous ownership," said the executive. Gucci Group took control of the Vicenza-based leather goods company in 2001.The store carries both the women's and men's ready-to-wear collections and a complete range of accessories, with a new eyewear display; an "icon wall" with precious bags in crocodile and other exotic skins that retail for up to 35,000 euros, or $45,500 at current exchange, and new window displays to feature the recently launched jewelry category.

Maier said Bottega Veneta's store concept is "always about respecting the existing architecture and then adapting our concept to work with the architectural style of the city. This has been our plan globally as we believe that each store should have an individual atmosphere that reflects the city it is in."

The designer took into account the store's 17th-century columns and stone arches, fitting the brand's store elements — walnut tables with handles sheathed in leather, suede-covered walls, settees upholstered in mohair and custom-dyed New Zealand wool carpets in matte neutrals and earth tones — to the original structure of the building.

Di Marco said that, prior to the acquisition by Gucci Group, Bottega Veneta was mostly a wholesale business, but that its parent company turned things around, focusing on directly owned stores, which he deems a more suitable strategy for the brand. "Bottega Veneta must be sold in a specific, dedicated atmosphere, with a one-to-one approach to the customer," said Di Marco. "Our stores are our way to communicate and our sales staff must know our history, our techniques and workmanship, the materials and crafts and transmit them to our customers. The staff represents the label and is the customer's first contact with the brand."

Although Di Marco declined to provide sales projections, he said the company was pleased with the profitability of all its stores over the past few years. Bottega Veneta now counts a total of 97 stores.

Compared with sales of 35 million euros, or $45.5 million, in 2001, said Di Marco, Bottega Veneta in 2005 reported sales of 267 million euros, or $347 million at current exchange rates, up 69 percent on the previous year.

To mark the opening of the boutique, Maier designed a 200-piece limited edition Roma bag. The seamless bag, made with soft goatskin in the signature Intrecciato style, is available in a delicate brass hue. Each Roma bag features an inscribed, numbered plate to commemorate the reopening.

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