By  on September 14, 2009

NEW YORK — For a designer, nothing says you’ve made it quite like a flagship on Fifth Avenue and after nearly 25 years in business, Tommy Hilfiger’s 22,000-square-foot store at 681 Fifth Avenue opening today clearly conveys the message he’s arrived.

“This is a pinnacle moment because everything seems to be working,” the designer said at the four-level flagship, where construction workers rushed over the weekend to put the finishing touches on the facade, dressing rooms and displays. “I remember that Avis tag line, ‘We Try Harder.’ I believe my team tries harder. For a while we were the underdogs. Now, we’re breaking loose with a lot of momentum.”

The flagship cost “in the tens of millions” to build, Hilfiger said, adding the final figure could grow since “all the bills haven’t come in yet and we’ve been paying people a lot of overtime.”

According to a June survey by the Real Estate Board of New York, the average asking rent along Fifth Avenue between 49th and 59th Streets, was $1,631 a square foot. Hilfiger signed the lease in spring 2008 after searching for a flagship location since 2006, when the company was bought by venture capital firm Apax Partners.

“In the early stages, we weren’t looking at this particular location and this particular size,” said Fred Gehring, chief executive officer of Tommy Hilfiger. “We were a little less courageous. We were just coming out of a reorganization. We were looking at lower Fifth Avenue, near 49th Street or further south. Financially, it was less intimidating. As our reorganization and brand development progressed really well, we gained more confidence and started to look on [the prime part] of Fifth Avenue.”

Gehring estimated the store will do $1,000 a square foot in sales, or about $22 million a year.

“We wanted this to be our global flagship, our stage to the world,” Hilfiger said. “We’re set up to do a lot of business. We’ve also set up [the store] as an image vehicle. Our success in Europe is such that it dictated that we have a global flagship.”

Had he known the economy was headed south, Gehring said he would still have signed the lease.

 

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