By and  on December 3, 2008

TOKYO — Stella McCartney has brand-new stores in Tokyo and Paris and the designer couldn’t be happier — or more incredulous.

“It’s amazing to me to have a store in Tokyo and Paris. That’s like when you’re a kid. It’s London, New York, Paris and Tokyo,” McCartney said, sitting on the second story of her new Tokyo outpost in the trendy Aoyama neighborhood. “I can’t really believe it, actually. I’m quite shocked.…Not bad for a seven-year-old brand.”

McCartney touched down in Tokyo for about 24 hours to fete the boutique with two parties Monday night. Re-creating the atmosphere of its famously raucous Christmas bash in London, the house festooned the store’s minimalist glass facade with gaudy holiday lights and hired an artist capable of twisting a taffylike candy into reindeer, rabbits and other creatures. The designer ordered up Spider-Man and Winnie the Pooh for her kids back home. Then the action moved on to Shibuya club Trump Room for a lively after party featuring a gravity-defying pole dancer in an oversize Afro wig and a performance by the indie band Golden Silvers.

The 2,200-square-foot Tokyo store, which opened in October, is located down a small side street behind the Prada Epicenter and the Comme des Garçons flagship. Neighbors include Juicy Couture, A Bathing Ape and Vivienne Tam.

“I love this area. We’re a young brand so it’s important for us to be just slightly off the beaten track,” said McCartney, clad in skinny jeans and a gray sweater studded with synthetic jewel stones.

Both the Tokyo and Paris stores feature Japanese ash walls interspersed with brass, ceramic tile accents, as well as an inlaid marble entryway. In Tokyo, a sculpture of brass tubes flecked with gold-hued rectangular shards, dubbed the “rain unit,” runs through the two levels of the store and doubles as a clothing rack.

“There’s a lot of wood in all my stores. I find it to be a warm and welcoming material,” McCartney said of the Tokyo store, describing it as a “slightly more grown-up” effort than her past retail units. That said, the designer didn’t want things to get too serious. Animal figures made out of Legos are sprinkled throughout the store and provide a dose of the designer’s signature quirkiness.

“I think it’s important for us to always have a little touch of humor,” she said. “One month it might be Lego. Another month it might be some sort of inflatable…Jeff Koons-like thing,” she said.

As for Paris, McCartney said she and her team had looked at various locations around the city over the past five years including Avenue Montaigne, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Left Bank, but the designer didn’t feel those addresses matched the spirit of the brand, so she settled on the picturesque Palais Royal.

The courtyard location, with a breathtaking formal garden and Daniel Buren installation, has become a hot designer destination, with Marc Jacobs, Rick Owens and Acne among its tenants, and California brand Joie slated to arrive in February.

“It just captured all of the magic of Paris for me. It’s got that history; it’s got the sculptural art element to it,” McCartney said of the palace. “It’s far enough away from the tourist thing…[but] you’d still go there if you were a cool tourist.”

The 1,600-square-foot store, slated to open Friday, boasts 18th-century moldings on the ceiling, meticulously restored with gold leaf, while ready-to-wear is hung in neat rows under rectangular wooden hoods, echoing the geometric symmetry of the trees lining the garden.

The “rain units” repeat throughout the store, which boasts eight windows, while a giant amethyst built into one end is a sparkling beacon to a fragrance and eyewear display. McCartney attempted to visit the Paris store for the first time Friday, but those plans were derailed — literally — when her Eurostar from London broke down and she had to sit in a black tunnel for three hours.

“It’s quite an eye-opener about human nature. All of a sudden you feel like an animal,” she recalled of the journey, which eventually took her to Lille before heading straight back to London. Hopefully her transportation will go a little more smoothly when she returns during Paris couture week in January to fete the store with a party. The house is keeping the details of the festivities under wraps.

The Paris and Tokyo openings — with printed T-shirts exclusive to each location — will lift McCartney’s freestanding store count to 12 by the end of 2008. These include Moscow, Beijing, Bahrain, Bangalore and Kowloon.

Future openings include a second location in Hong Kong, a New Delhi boutique and units in Kuwait, Dubai, Jeddah, Qatar and Riyadh.

The brand, part of Gucci Group, already has ample distribution in both France and Japan on a wholesale basis with key accounts in Paris at Le Bon Marché, Le Printemps, Mona and Montaigne Market. Tokyo retailers carrying the collection include Matsuya, Isetan, Estination and United Arrows. In terms of product extensions or collaborations, McCartney allowed that she’s starting to ponder her prospects in men’s wear — albeit not immediately.

“I would like to do men’s wear. It would be more of a challenge for me, but it’s definitely something I would think about doing,” said McCartney, who noted that more and more men are asking her if she’ll move into the category.

The designer already dabbled in men’s with a Savile Row-style bespoke service in her London store. But she hastened to add that she considers her forays into lingerie and beauty more imminent priorities. “There’s a lot I want to take to the next level before I start attacking a brand-new thing,” she said.

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