By  on December 13, 2006

HONG KONG — Gucci has officially opened its new flagship here, the company's largest store in Asia outside of Japan. The Hong Kong opening follows the debut of Gucci's new Tokyo store and headquarters in Ginza, and marks a significant investment in the region for the company.

Mark Lee, Gucci's chief executive officer, said the time and place are perfect. "We've been growing steadily and the fastest growth in the world has been coming from Asia-Pacific," said Lee during a tour of the new flagship. "Hong Kong is really the heart of Asia-Pacific — it always has been and remains so."

And the Asia-Pacific is increasingly important for the brand. Gucci sales in the region, excluding Japan, rose 28.5 percent last year to 373.8 million euros, or $497.1 million at current exchange, compared with 297.2 million euros, or $395.3 million, in 2004.

The store is located in The Landmark, Central Dis­trict's premier luxury retail center. Over the last five years the building has been transformed by developer Hongkong Land and now boasts numerous high-end flagships, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Harvey Nichols. Gucci was one of the mall's original tenants when it opened some 25 years ago. Prior to the flagship, the brand had two smaller stores in The Landmark, one for women's wear and the other for men's wear.

The new Gucci store, which takes up 11,000 square feet over two levels, is in a prime corner location, with three facades: two facing the street and one inside the mall. "Hong Kong is one of the really sophisticated, ‘downtown' cities of the world," said Lee. "This was a real opportunity to do real facades, with big windows and really give a presence."

The look of the store echoes the flagship in Ginza but with some differences. Both stores employ the same roller-pattern glass made in Germany and boast a softer, warmer look than previous Gucci boutiques. "In Hong Kong, we have a different interpretation of the same materials [as used in Tokyo]," said Lee, adding that the new look might or might not roll out to other Gucci stores around the world. "This concept has been developed for Landmark and for Ginza and now we'll see. These were really specially done based on the unique configurations of the space and the facades. I don't think there will be any other stores in the world quite like these. We'll see how we adapt these elements, if we adapt them."On the exterior, those elements include the multidimensional glass facade designed by James Carpenter and fiber-optic lighting created by Shozo Toyohisa. The storefronts feature towering windows with video backgrounds, large windows dedicated to ready-to-wear and smaller ones displaying accessories, including jewelry and handbags. Although the store itself is on the ground floor and lower-ground floor of The Landmark, its facades soar another two stories — ample space for the giant Gucci logo that lights up at night.

The interior, designed by Gucci creative director Frida Giannini in collaboration with decorator William Sofield, employs many of the brand's signature materials such as rosewood, mohair velvet and travertine to create a warm, glamorous look. "We wanted to warm up, to lighten up and to modernize the stores," said Lee. "We let the sunshine in with some of the windows, which is new for us. It's nice to know where you are when you're in a store. You're in central Hong Kong — it's one of the most glamorous and exciting places to shop in the world, so why not see Hong Kong when you're in the store?"

The ground floor is home to the brand's most luxurious and expensive items as well as a first for Asia-Pacific: a separate fine jewelry corner. This space is dedicated to purveying gold, diamonds, precious stones and, eventually, luxury watches. Giannini has designed a "lucky green" tsavorite necklace and matching earrings just for the Hong Kong opening.

Other items designed exclusively for the Hong Kong store include a mahjong set encased in green Guccissima leather and three handbag styles.

Apart from handbags, precious skin items and fine jewelry, the ground floor boasts women's eveningwear, runway fashion and a shoe section displaying footwear seen on the runway. Rtw is displayed alongside a golden-hued mural created by artist Nancy Lorenz. The semiprivate shoe area features its own sofa and three walls displaying women's evening shoes and footwear that coordinates with the rtw collection. "This is not a little boutique — because it's in a big store — but we wanted to give a boutique feeling," said Lee of the layout.

Lee added Gucci wanted to give its customers "every possible excuse to stay for many hours," which led to the creation of large dressing rooms, complete with monogrammed Gucci robes for changing, ample seating throughout the store and plenty of coffee, tea and juice for clients.This is especially true as one descends the stairs to the men's section. The area is divided between rtw (shown with appropriate footwear on display), formalwear, shirts and neckwear, and made-to-order items, including exotic-skin shoes and suits. The men's section also has extra-large dressing rooms.

Throughout the floor there is an equal divide between men's and women's products. On one side, men's fashion leads to men's shoes and then to men's accessories and leather goods, while on the other a smaller women's fashion section leads to shoes and women's accessories. "Before, we had two shops separated," said Lee, "but now we have this opportunity to let couples or groups shop together."

Nothing symbolizes this more than the shoe department, the largest open area in the entire store. Here, men can browse for brogues on one side of the shop while women slip on sandals on the other. The space is separated by plush sofas and cases displaying sterling silver jewelry and, naturally enough, baby booties. Lee explained the thinking behind the layout: "We have this luxury of space, and we wanted to show the duality — the male and female sides — of the brand in a way that allowed us to combine shopping."

Although he declined to say how much Gucci has spent developing this flagship, Lee admitted the company has made "a significant investment" in Hong Kong. That also stands true for mainland China, where Gucci has opened four stores this year, bringing its total there to 10. "We're entering our second decade in China, and we've already announced that we will open six more stores next year. Sales are real there. It's the correct timing for the second- and third-tier cities. Those cities are longing for the product," said Lee.

In the meantime, Lee is happy to pause, if only momentarily, to reflect on Gucci's achievements in Hong Kong. "Ten years ago when I came to Hong Kong for the first time, the biggest Gucci store was our old women's store, which was about 200 square feet. Now it's 11,000 square feet. It just shows our tremendous growth."

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