The Italian luxury brand will inaugurate today an eight-story glass building in the high-end Ginza shopping area here that not only was built from scratch — the land alone cost more than $80 million — but also will unveil a new post-Tom Ford store design. The store, which occupies five of the floors, or 11,000 square feet, will open to the public on Friday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony. There also is more than 40,000 square feet of office space for Gucci Group Japan.
"We wanted this to be the most luxurious Gucci store in the world," Gucci chief executive Mark Lee told WWD during an exclusive walk-through Tuesday. "We thought luxury with a capital L, from the materials to such small details as silk robes in the fitting rooms or Guccissima leather shoehorns and credit card trays."
He added that, from a merchandising standpoint, for example, "we wanted the ground floor to have the most luxurious handbags and the made-to-order service." The latter is being reintroduced starting here.
To herald the store's arrival, on Thursday night there will be a party at which Mary J. Blige will perform. The fashion house also has created a fifth-generation iPod etched with the Gucci logo and cradled inside a silver La Pelle Guccissima holder as the party gift.
Also for the store, creative director Frida Giannini has developed an exclusive collection of bags, small leather goods and luggage in cotton canvas with a dolphin or anchor print, once again drawing on Gucci's archives. The new brown-bronze shopping bags say "Gucci Ginza" on the outside and bear a plaque etched with the same words inside.
Such exclusives and small touches signal the importance of Japan as a market, evidenced by the fact that at the end of last year it accounted for 22.7 percent of Gucci's sales, or $516 million at current exchange rates.
Gucci currently has 54 stores throughout Japan, 14 of which are in Tokyo. First-year sales for the store, which is Gucci's biggest unit in Japan, were unavailable.
"For the moment, the store concept that we developed here only pertains here, as this store was decorated around its glass structure and the vertical space we had at our disposal," said Lee.If, when and where the new concept will be used is still to be decided and will depend on the characteristics of the individual store spaces.
Lee and Giannini, who masterminded the interiors, tapped James Carpenter, an architect who built his reputation on glass and how it intersects with light, to design the multifaceted exteriors of the Ginza flagship.
"He came up with what I think is a beautiful concept of roller-pattern glass, made by one factory in Mannheim [Germany] that has been making glass since the Bauhaus days. They were the only ones capable of making these [undulated] panels using erstwhile techniques and passing the earthquake tests," said Lee.
The two layers of hanging glass panels — a clear one and a prismatic bronzed one that together cast a warm and illusionary play of light — were the starting point for the interiors, as well. The glass weaves its way into the store as wall panels, enveloping the grand central staircase.
At night the tower is aglow with installations by Japanese artist Shozo Toyohisa.
"It's nice to know that you're in Tokyo versus Paris or New York," said Lee of the tower's transparency, which offers views of the neighboring buildings and the street's "Blade Runner" neon effects.
The ambition to open the store began in 2000 during the tenures of Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole, but construction only began in October 2005. The Italian company acquired the land and its former building for 64.7 million euros, or $80.9 million, in April 2003; subsequently sold the land, and is now in the middle of selling the building in exchange for a long-term lease. The financial transactions represent somewhat of a bargain for Gucci, given that Chanel paid $170 million for the plot of land for its Ginza flagship, which opened in December 2004.
In the name of continuity, Bill Sofield, the man who a decade ago translated Tom Ford's sultry elegance and store design concept of steel and bitter-chocolate browns, forged the interior of Gucci's new Tokyo store. This time, though, Giannini's counterorder during her briefing consisted of two key words: lighter and warmer.
"I wanted to exploit the light-infused interiors to make the environment warmer, more intimate and more dynamic," said Giannini, clad in a black, swingy minidress and mary-jane platforms.Said Lee, "The previous concept was theatrical and strong, but it was like being in a box — the same everywhere."
In this back-to-the-future aesthetic that hints at the façade of Gucci's New York store in the Seventies, gone is the hard-edged glow of mirror-shiny metals, which have been replaced by brushed nickel with touches of shiny or matte gold. The two hues often form color alternations inspired by the brand's iconic green-red-green web pattern.
"I feel that gold and its warm glow is very right for the current Gucci aesthetic," said Giannini.
Classic Gucci materials such as rosewood, a distinguishing trait in the company's stores in the Sixties and Seventies; velvet mohair upholstery, and travertine marble (Ford also used a whiter version in his makeover) all made it into Sofield's studio, only to be made a notch lighter. Thick and soft moquette alternates with the butter-colored marble.
For the first time ever, touch-screen interactive videos loaded with Gucci's history, most recent collections and ad campaigns are scattered throughout the store.
The flagship was conceived to accommodate Gucci's fast-growing categories such as fine jewelry, watches, eyewear, scarves and an ever-evolving assortment of bags, which are spread throughout the first four floors of the store, along with the women's ready-to-wear and eveningwear collections. "It was such a luxury to be able to divide the merchandise in themes and products," said Lee.
The ground floor is devoted to top-flight handbags made of prime calfskin or precious skins, alongside fashion styles and made-to-order designs.
"There was a clear thought process on how everything is divided," said Lee. "The canvas GG bags, for example, are on the first floor with the more casual looks such as denim, leatherwear and shearlings and silver jewelry or entry-price yellow gold pieces."
With a nod to Japanese culture, the trained salespeople will present the most exclusive handbag styles on a Guccissima-trimmed suede roll-out pad, dramatically unfurled for the occasion.
At the below-ground level, male shoppers can splurge with made-to-order suits and shirts available in up to 300 different fabrics or choose from the 14 shoe styles available in 52 combinations between colors and materials.Gucci's second cafe after Milan sits on the fifth floor, where, aside from frothy cappuccinos, the menu includes light meals that spotlight fresh vegetables, Kobe beef carpaccio, a variety of cheeses with jams on the side, chocolate or raspberry spoon cakes and in-season fruit.
"Tokyo is so chaotic that this offers an oasis amid the bustle, as well as being a driver to keep people in the store," said Lee.
Nancy Lorenz, an artist who uses mother-of-pearl, pigment and layers of shellac to create refined surfaces, created a gold-laminated mosaic wall with stylized bamboo plants in the cafe.
The sixth floor houses offices; the seventh, customer service that also will fine-tune a 20-year-old pair of Gucci loafers, and the first Gucci gallery sits on the eighth floor. The gallery will make its debut with a celebratory exhibition of the brand's 85th anniversary featuring historic pieces from the archives displayed to the public for the first time ever.
The rooftop is crowned with a Zen-style terrace and events area.
"What I love about Tokyo is that you can sit outside a subway station and see the world go by, from trim businessmen to women in kimonos to trendy kids," said Giannini. "It's so energizing."
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