By  on February 26, 2008

PARIS — Givenchy unveils the final piece of its rejuvenation puzzle on Wednesday: a gallerylike Paris boutique featuring a series of black-box display suites and a long, gleaming gold ingot for the cash wrap.

The new 3,750-square-foot flagship on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, which opens to the public Friday, is a dramatic statement for a French house emboldened by recent success, including a return to profitability in 2007 fueled by sales momentum on multiple fronts, particularly women's fashions by Riccardo Tisci, who shows his fall collection Wednesday night.

"Our strategy now is very clear and it's working well," said Marco Gobbetti, chairman and chief executive of Givenchy, part of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. "The company is now looking at a phase of faster growth."

Like-for-like sales last year advanced 25 percent — and doubled in the U.S. — as Tisci's modern, edgy approach to the storied French brand gained popularity. Looking ahead, Givenchy plans a measured retail rollout and spies expansion potential across all product categories and geographic regions.

Gobbetti confirmed that Givenchy recently renewed Tisci's contract, lending some continuity to a brand that has seen a revolving door of designers, and a hodgepodge of styles, since the 1995 retirement of founder Hubert de Givenchy.

"I think Riccardo found his own way to merge the strong elements of the DNA of the brand with his own personality and vision of a woman," Gobbetti said in an interview at Givenchy's sun-drenched headquarters here. "The collections have pretty much found their positioning, structure and objectives."

Aristocracy, romance, irony and "chic elegance" are all part of the characteristics of Givenchy and "Riccardo was clearly instrumental in bringing modernity," Gobbetti said. "This is a real strength because we're working with the codes of the brand. It's regenerating from within."

Gobbetti credited strong press support for helping fuel the business, with women's wear now growing at 40 to 50 percent a season. Reviews for Tisci's summer couture collection, inspired by Degas' ballerinas, were the most encouraging yet and sales "started very strongly the day after the show," he noted.

Market sources estimate Givenchy generates annual revenues of about 80 million euros, or $118.6 million at current exchange, while the new store should pull in an estimated 6 million euros, or $8.9 million.

Gobbetti described a process of "restudying and reinventing the company" since he took the helm in 2004 after a long career at Moschino. This included a fresh start in the U.S. market, building from "almost nothing" to 6 percent of total turnover today, Gobbetti said. Givenchy closed its Madison Avenue flagship earlier this year and is concentrating on key wholesale clients, including Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue, plus independents like Maxfield, Blake and Ikram.

And despite a slowing economy in America, "I expect we will do between 50 and 60 percent growth" in that market, Gobbetti said. "I'm not discounting the economic climate at all. I think we have to be extremely careful this year."

Other regions are equally dynamic for the brand, including China, the Middle East and all of Europe. In terms of product categories, all are on a growth track, including men's wear. After parting ways with its former men's designer, Ozwald Boateng, last year and mothballing a second line, Givenchy has pursued a new men's positioning with an in-house design team. "It's more contemporary and in line with the overall DNA of the brand," Gobbetti said. "We're restarting the men's distribution in Saks in seven locations."

The Paris flagship, with 45 feet of frontage between Hermès and Boucheron, showcases the brand's new spirit with a full selection of products, excepting beauty, in an atmosphere that balances spaciousness with privacy. The design concept, by Tisci and architect Jamie Fobert, is modern and minimal, but with rich, classic details inspired by Givenchy's 18th-century headquarters on the George V.

The black boxes — which display ready-to-wear inside — have lacquered, charred oak on the outside and elaborate moldings, albeit inverted, on the inside, along with parquet floors in various shades and variations. The effect is of discovering several different boutiques within one store: the oak-paneled VIP room evoking an English library. Another box lined in black leather expresses Tisci's darker side.

Handbags and accessories are displayed on a long counter lining the narrow and deep store, with rtw displays on mannequins suspended from the ceiling.

Small leather goods, eyewear and other accessories are housed in drawers. Footwear is showcased at the back, with Louis XV chairs reconfigured in a quirky, Goth-inspired way by Tisci.
Accessories account for roughly 45 percent of the Givenchy business; men's wear 35 percent, and women's wear 20 percent. Gobbetti said the fast-growing women's business would eventually be balanced with men's.

Classic leather goods have long been the lifeblood of Givenchy, but the company recently emphasized fashions, finding particular success with its Nightingale and Overnight handbags. Gobbetti is hoping the Postino, hitting stores for spring, will be the brand's next winning style.

Gobbetti said the Paris unit represents a "new model" for Givenchy's retail arm that will be replicated in forthcoming units. He said the format is likely to attract interest from franchise partners, but that retail expansion would be "controlled" and that he would still privilege the company's wholesale clients. At present, Givenchy has two directly operated stores in France, seven in China and one in Japan. Coming this year, in addition to the Faubourg, are three more stores in China, plus one in Hong Kong and another in Macau, for a total of 16 locations.

Gobbetti also projects franchised stores to number more than 40 by yearend after adding locations in China, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Any store opening after July will reflect the new design concept, he noted.

Although the Paris flagship is the brand's main event in 2008, the year will also see Givenchy reenter the watch business with Italian partner Global Watch Industries, with the first collection unveiling at the Basel watch fair in April at an average retail price of 800 to 900 euros, or $1,185 to $1,334 at current exchange.

On the marketing front, Givenchy will unveil a new Web site soon, but without an e-commerce component.

Gobbetti said he expects growth this year to match last year's and that investments would not compromise profitability. But there is work to do on the product side, ultimately expanding categories to offer a complete wardrobe.

"Givenchy is one of the four brands that built French fashion," he said. "It went through its ups and downs. We want to bring it back very quickly to where it belongs."

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