HONG KONG — Boasting a five-story facade equipped with 210,000 glittering LEDs, Chanel's largest flagship here opened Monday, a beacon of luxury that can be seen all the way from mainland China across the harbor.
"Greater China is growing, and with a big potential," said Chanel SA president Francoise Montenay during a walk-through of the 8,000-square-foot unit at the epicenter of Hong Kong's booming financial district.
The largest of seven Chanel locations here, and the brand's biggest Asian flagship after the Ginza building in Tokyo, the boutique in the Prince's Building is among the first of several major volleys by the company in the region. Montenay disclosed that Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, slated to unveil a pre-fall collection of luxury ready-to-wear in New York on Wednesday, will travel to Hong Kong on March 24 to do an encore of his January couture show in Paris. The designer also will shoot Chanel's fall ready-to-wear campaign here at the same time, she added.
Also in 2006, Chanel will unveil a revamped location here in Lee Gardens, its second most-important outlet, as well as open its first boutique in Macau, the burgeoning casino and resort destination that's only a short boat ride away. It's also eyeing a major flagship for Beijing in 2007, adding to a hotel-based unit it already operates there.
Monday's opening festivities, with double-decker buses ferrying guests from a store cocktail party to a gala dinner, were to be followed by two days of fashion shows in the boutique promoting the cruise collection, emblematic of Chanel's desire to offer Chinese consumers a world-class shopping experience — and a crash course in its illustrious history. To wit: Montenay said Chanel would soon fly in experts from the couture ateliers it owns, including the shoemaker Massaro and the feather and flower house Lemarie, to give demonstrations of French savoir faire.
Chanel has operated a boutique in the Prince's Building since 1986, but its latest reincarnation extends to three shopping levels, each a warren of salons for handbags, footwear, ready-to-wear and eyewear, plus an annex for beauty products.
Montenay and Philippe Mougenot, president of watches and fine jewelry, also unveiled a new design concept for that category, based on the idea of an apartment: namely that of founder Gabrielle Chanel.A suite of three rooms is appointed with comfy sofas, piles of coffee table books, subdued lighting and gold-framed jewelry cases set in the wall in lieu of paintings. There is even a fireplace — never mind the deep-freeze air-conditioning that blasts year-round in Hong Kong's luxury shops and malls.
Montenay explained that such a setting lends itself to selling fine jewelry, and she plans to extend the Hong Kong concept elsewhere in the world.
Shoppers can enter the shop from a mall entrance that lands them in a room devoted to watches, a vibrant category here. Alternatively, they can enter off the main plaza, which has handbags and other fashion accessories front-and-center.
"For me, luxury is intimacy," Montenay said. "Even if we have a big space, we try to have separate rooms as we have here."
Montenay also noted that Chanel strives to make each location unique with varying lacquer and painting techniques, color palettes and a range of rich materials, from engraved granite walls and panels of carbon fiber to chairs interwoven with leather and metallic threads.
The store, designed by architect Peter Marino, also features commissioned works by five artists, including a gigantic string of 383 blown-glass "pearls" by Jean-Michel Othoniel that punctuates the stairwell. Thanks to large glass panels on the corner site, most of the works can be seen from the street.
The Hong Kong flagship is also one of only three in the world — New York and Tokyo are the others — to offer limited-edition products exclusive to the store. These include a pink tweed jacket embellished with Murano glass beads for 4,000 euros, or $4,680, and a tweed and leather handbag, signed by Lagerfeld himself, for 1,400 euros, or about $1,640.
Privately held Chanel declined to give first-year sales projections for the store. While Montenay said the primary impact would be to further enhance Chanel's image, she said the unit would quickly become profitable.
To be sure, a booming economy and a steady influx of Chinese consumers has buoyed Chanel's fortunes in the region. Robert Wilkins, managing director for Chanel in Greater China, said sales gained 40 percent last year, rebounding after the SARS health scare, and are on a double-digit growth track this year.At present, Chanel is mostly represented in China with its fragrances and cosmetics, now found in 27 mainland cities, Wilkins said. Still, he cited a healthy appetite for expensive watches, which are perceived as "permanent luxury," and fine jewelry, with some of the pieces on offer Monday priced up to $1.6 million.
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