By  on August 21, 2007

TOKYO — The roles of art galleries and specialty boutiques have always been clearly defined. Specialty boutiques sell fashion, while galleries are the place to buy art. But lately the lines have become blurred. The traditional fashion boutique has become a lifestyle center where art, once simply seen adorning a store's walls, is for sale. So are art books, CDs, DVDs and cosmetics and, increasingly, there are boutiques containing cafes and even flower shops.

Consumers have embraced the new offerings. "I see more cases where a customer who normally only buys cheaper items like T-shirts is now buying art, which costs more than 100,000 yen [$810 at current exchange] without hesitation," said Yuichi Yoshii of Loveless, a specialty store in the Aoyama district here.

Boutiques that simply sold photography books or art tomes have begun mounting art exhibits and selling artwork. At Loveless, for example, art events are held regularly. During a recent photo exhibition by Stephane Queme of the French band Daft Punk, 20 works ranging from 49,350 yen to 165,900 yen, or $399 to $1,342 at current exchange, sold the first day. At a subsequent exhibition at Loveless, "Stones," by lacquer artist Akito Akagi and pottery artist Kouichi Uchida, 60 out of 200 pieces sold with prices ranging from 180,000 yen to 650,000 yen, or $1,456 to $5,257.

Meanwhile, Wut Berlin, owned by H.P. France, earlier this year exhibited photographs by Anna Schlaeger. During the show, 10 out of 23 pieces were sold, including large prints priced at 17,750 yen, or $144, and medium prints for 12,600 yen, or $102.

While art hasn't performed as well as fashion, Loveless' Yoshii said the results are still quite good. "It has the effect of cultivating new customers since we have new people who had never been to the boutique visiting for the art exhibitions," he said. "Also, we can use art as a topic to open communications with our customers. It adds to the intimacy factor."

For some boutiques, art is an important tool used to convey the store concept. Restir, for example, said it will hold exhibitions at the entrance of its midtown boutique. Other stores are featuring artists who worked on their catalogues and mailings. Tomorrowland, a specialty store, sold works by Valerie Roy and Fabrice Moireau at its Shibuya boutique and Maison Galerie Vie, its boutique and cafe in Aoyama. Since Roy and Moireau are well-known for their collaborations with major luxury brands, devoted fans from Tokyo and beyond came to the opening reception this spring."It is our philosophy to introduce lifestyle products, not only fashion," said Akira Ueno, general manager for the shop development division of Tomorrowland. "The name of our Aoyama store, Galerie Vie, means 'lifestyle gallery.'"

Tomorrowland has been selling items such as home and decorating products, stationery, posters and postcards for more than 20 years. It became more aware of the potential for selling art when prints by photographer Arthur Elgort blew out during the boutique's Shibuya opening. "Originally, art could not be purchased outside a limited number of places such as galleries," Ueno said. "There are more people looking for real art now, yet many are not aware of where to go. We are hoping such customers enjoy art through stores like ours when they visit."

Tomorrowland works with artists to ensure prices are affordable. For example, at Maison Galerie Vie, an exhibition of Géraldine Gonzalez's works on paper in June was priced at 31,500 yen, or $255, for small pieces, and 47,250 yen, or $382, for large pieces, which was well within Tomorrowland customers' budgets.

Competition is stiff in the Tokyo specialty boutique arena, which makes enhancing a store's image with art increasingly important. At Loveless, sales of CDs and books are booming and the shop believes it's possible for half the stockkeeping units to eventually shift to nonfashion products. Boutiques such as Loveless have also found an added benefit to selling art: regular exhibitions provide excitement during off-peak selling periods when there's a lull in the stores.

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