By  on May 19, 2009

PARIS — While normally associated with hulking brand edifices on the world’s prime shopping avenues, Europe’s luxury players are suddenly enamored with more modest, temporary stores.

Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Chanel are among major brands plotting such retail ventures in the coming months, characterizing them as a way to tap into a new customer base, create excitement — and capture extra sales in a tough economy.

“Even if it has been done to address a problem, it can become an opportunity,” said Patrick Thomas, chief executive officer at Hermès International, which on Wednesday will open at 63 Main Street in East Hampton, N.Y., for a four-month stint. “It’s also a veryinteresting way to talk to new categories of customers.”

Thomas was mum on details, but Hermès is said to be mulling three or four such temporary locations this year, including in Europe. “If we open a temporary store, it’s a way to check: Do we have customers in that area or not?” he explained. “It’s a good way to put a toe in the market.”

“It’s a way for our brand to renew its vision, and to inspire the imaginations of a wider public,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, which will christen a temporary store in Moscow later this month at Podium, a multibrand store. “The idea is to show only some items of our collection. The entire collection is available in the Chanel boutiques of that city.”

“This type of project is both a brand-building exercise and a commercial potential,” added Nathalie Franson, ceo at Azzaro, which operated a pop-up store on London’s Mount Street for four weeks last February and March — and is now plotting another for the south of France this summer. “It is a way of attaining new customers as well as reinforcing relationships with our current customers. It creates a direct link between the brand and its clientele.”

To wit: At the end of its four-week London stint, the specialty store Brown’s rang requesting to sell the few pieces remaining on the rails. Franson noted the temporary shop, which also launched an Azzaro capsule collection designed by Jemima Khan, was a “remarkable success on the press side.”

At present, Azzaro is only sold in the U.K. through wholesale channels “so opening a pop-up shop in a given market is the perfect way to reach out to our customers and invite them to discover the ‘world of’ Azzaro,” Franson said.

Vuitton, which opened a temporary store in Tokyo last winter to showcase a collaboration with Comme des Garçons and its iconoclastic designer Rei Kawakubo, will open another time-limited retail venture in the Japanese capital later this month while the French brand awaits a permanent location at the new Seibu Ikebukuro department store in 2010.

The temporary store will look the part: surrounded by scaffolding, wrapped in white mesh and with a raw interior with sections defined by stacked wooden crates (although the products themselves will sit on elegant, padded shelves).

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