By  on December 28, 2006

PARIS — Is the way to a luxury customer's wallet through her stomach?

Perhaps, which is why a growing number of luxury flagships and multibrand retailers now offer food products and services as a value-added feature, revenue stream and an attraction in and of themselves.

This winter alone, Gucci has christened a cafe in its new Ginza building in Tokyo, Lane Crawford in Hong Kong has opened a "chocolate room" at its flagship, Dolce & Gabbana is serving up martinis at its new Shanghai flagship, and Hermès is shepherding shoppers to cafe tables at its new Seoul maison and its expanded Ginza store in Tokyo. Next year, Italian eateries will open in the new Ginza flagships of Giorgio Armani and Bulgari.

Laduree, one of Paris' marquee pastry purveyors, is gearing up for an international expansion push to place its colorful macaroons — featured prominently in Sofia Coppola's film "Marie Antoinette" — in Mitsukoshi in Tokyo, Villa Moda in Kuwait and the renovated Plaza Hotel complex in New York.

"I definitely see a strong link between fashion and food since they are both an important part of our lifestyle," said Shiekh Majed Al-Sabah, president of Villa Moda, who disclosed he has seven food-related projects in the works, including branches of Bubo from Barcelona, TMSK from Shanghai and The Temple Club from Ho Chi Minh City. "You are talking to a much bigger customer base in food, but using the power of the fashion brands to attract. I actually established Villa Moda Food Co., which will handle all these operations."

Andrew Keith, vice president of merchandising at Lane Crawford, described the retailer's showcase of six international gourmet chocolate brands as a "huge success," adding, "the idea is to bring newness into the marketplace."

Lane Crawford also has a restaurant specializing in Mediterranean cuisine at its flagship IFC location, plus Champagne and martini bars scattered throughout various departments. "We're looking at how we can incorporate that into other locations," Keith noted. "The customers are really open to experimenting."

For example, he cited brisk sales of Dom Perignon in a special package in collaboration with industrial designer Marc Newson.

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