By  on October 6, 2006

MILAN — Ten months into a restructuring plan and La Rinascente is already showing evident signs of a rebirth.

While it remained open throughout the renovation, the Milan flagship of the Italian department store chain will officially unveil two newly decorated floors — its accessories and beauty sections — on Oct. 19 with a rock-remix party.

As part of his seven-year plan to revive the store, Vittorio Radice, who was appointed La Rinascente’s chief executive officer last year, has succeeded in drawing top designer brands from Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana to Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Salvatore Ferragamo, raising the store from a midtier to a high-end designer range. Major changes in the interior design also mark a new era for the store, with marble replacing linoleum floors.

“These are only the first steps of the next 100 — it’s only the beginning,” stressed Radice in an interview. “We’ve cleaned up the building, which is located in a prime, fantastic area. We redid the entrance, the ground and mezzanine floors and changed the layout, worked on the lights, and highlighted the rows of white columns to recover the store’s original dignity.”

La Rinascente, which dates back to 1865, was acquired last year by Tamerice Srl, a consortium led by the Borletti family, who owned it before the Agnellis, for 888 million euros, or $1.13 billion at current exchange. This summer, the Borletti Group, together with RREEF, the fund overseeing La Rinascente’s real estate portfolio, also bought the Printemps department store in France from Gucci Group parent PPR.

La Rinascente’s Milan flagship, overlooking the city’s cathedral and in one of the busiest shopping and tourist areas, is the company’s crown jewel. “It’s a beautiful position in the heart of Milan and it’s the first store of this kind in Italy — the first concept of a grand magasin [department store] here that shows an evolution of luxury retailing, with high-end brands under the same roof,” said Jean Baptiste Debains, general manager of Louis Vuitton Italia, which will open a shop within the department store that will extend from the ground to the mezzanine floor. Louis Vuitton will carry a range of accessories, from handbags and travel cases to eyewear and watches.“We can offer additional service and products and the store will allow us to approach new potential customers,” said Debains, adding the company, which counts 16 boutiques in Italy, has hired 20 salespeople for this store.

Service is also part of Radice’s mantra. The executive, who has already hired 50 new employees for the Milan flagship, said he wants to return to full service — an asset at La Rinascente in the Sixties and Seventies. “Customers want just as much assistance whether they’re buying a portable phone or a handbag and our salespeople will be dedicated to a single brand,” said Radice.

“The presence of Vittorio Radice guarantees success,” predicted Cristiana Ruella, Dolce & Gabbana’s director of general affairs. “It’s a welcome first project of a luxury department store in Italy and we want to be part of it from the start. This is a business opportunity for us, as our accessories line is now so well defined and independent of our ready-to-wear collections that it allows us to open a dedicated corner in concession.”

To underscore the company’s belief in the project, Ruella noted the brand’s innerwear collections for men and women are also available at La Rinascente and that its children’s wear corner will open in February 2007. While declining to provide sales projections, Ruella said she was “sure of the success” of the venture.

Radice has revamped the innerwear area and moved it from the mezzanine to the fifth floor. He’s also redesigned the beauty, fragrance and cosmetics section on the ground floor, adding new brands such as Jo Malone, Tom Ford and Shu Uemura to the roster of longtime fixtures such as Giorgio Armani, Lancôme, Clinique, Yves Saint Laurent and Bulgari.

“Fragrance is very important, it’s the heart of the store, and the cosmetics area at the entrance is sort of a hotel lobby, where you take in the store, understand how to move around, stop at the welcome desk and pause before you take a trip around the store,” said Radice.

Also, in a significant step for Italy, La Rinascente will be open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.Next year, La Rinascente plans to revamp the children’s wear floor and the restaurant on the seventh floor, with a terrace with a view of the intricately decorated spires of the cathedral. Gradual renovations of the flagship will continue until 2012.

Last year, Radice, whose track record includes the turnaround of Selfridges, said he planned to double sales of the La Rinascente chain by 2012, reaching revenues of 605 million euros, or $769.9 million, up from 292 million euros, or $371.6 million, in 2004. The executive said the owners planned to invest 110 million, or $139.9 million, in the remodeling of La Rinascente’s 15 existing stores.

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