By  on December 3, 2004

TOKYO — From its computerized underground parking garage up to its sumptuous Alain Ducasse restaurant on the 10th floor, the world’s largest Chanel store bows here Saturday in the burgeoning Ginza shopping district.

“We want to go beyond just being a luxury boutique. We want to offer a luxury-filled day of pleasure for our customers,” declared Richard Collasse, president of Chanel in Japan, the French fashion and beauty firm’s number-two market after Europe.

The 14,000-square-foot boutique is housed in a new black tower on a plot of land that cost $170 million. Chanel declined to provide sales projections, but analysts expect the unit to generate revenues of between $30 million and $50 million per year in one of Asia’s premier retail showcases.

No wonder Chanel is feting the new store in fine style.

Designer Karl Lagerfeld, his entire design team, atelier and entourage in tow, is staging no fewer than eight fashion shows over four days, unveiling a pre-fall ready-to-wear collection with couture detailing and reprising his spring 2005 “red carpet” show for a total audience of 10,000 people, including local school children (but without Nicole Kidman, the guest of honor at the show in Paris last October).

A virtual demigod in Japan, Lagerfeld is causing a stir on the streets of Tokyo, posing for photos before hushed, wide-eyed fans and also “taking pictures like crazy himself with all his cameras,” noted Chanel president Francoise Montenay. “Karl loves Japan.”

And Japan certainly loves Chanel. Despite a tough economic climate that has lingered for a decade, the brand has managed to post double-digit sales growth for most of that time and gained market share in cosmetics and fine jewelry, said Collasse, a France-born executive who has lived in Japan for 33 years.

Even Chanel advertising draws crowds in Tokyo. A giant Christmas tree, set against a towering image of Lagerfeld and a sparkling Eiffel Tower, is one of the most photographed sites on the Ginza strip.

During a walk-through of the store with WWD Thursday morning, Collasse and Montenay pointed out scores of details, from perfect lacquered panels to the whimsical call buttons for the elevator, arranged in a pattern depicting the house’s interlocking double Cs.Shoppers using the main entrance immediately sense the unit’s vast volumes — unusual in the land of 10-seat karaoke bars — and a merchandising strategy that showcases all product categories on every floor. “Wherever you go you can find everything: shoes, accessories, a little ready-to-wear,” explained Montenay, whose mantra is to “constantly surprise the customer — and ourselves.”

Given primary placement on the main floor is an extensive range of Lagerfeld-designed products exclusive to the Ginza location. They include a tweed jacket with knitted fringe edging and pearl-festooned handbags and totes with the Chanel logo written in English and Japanese. The latter come in white, yellow or pink. “Japanese love pink,” said Montenay, who has traveled to Japan 25 times for Chanel.

A concise display of beauty products in a rear nook also includes some exclusive products, from a trio of rare fragrances to compacts of special lip colors and a black-and-white eye shadow pressed to resemble tweed.

Tweed is a running theme, from the artfully trimmed hedges on the rooftop terrace to the soaring facade, which at night depicts computer-generated tweed patterns via 700,000 light-emitting diodes.

Architect Peter Marino’s monolithic black steel and glass building is a high-tech wonder, but one also packed with traditionally rich materials: white granite or marble floors, gold- and diamond-flecked panels and specially designed lacquered tweed furniture.

A black marble-and-glass staircase, with a towering four-story atrium, is perhaps the building’s most dramatic feature and leads shoppers up to a suite of small and large salons, showcasing watches, costume jewelry, knitwear and ready-to-wear, but always with a sprinkling of other products.

“It’s true luxury because it’s intimate, but you have plenty of space,” Montenay said, evaluating the lighting in a fitting room that contains a long, cushioned, built-in bench in lieu of a chair.

The third floor features evening dresses and precious handbags and shoes, with a series of private salons where customers can select their favorite background music, from jazz to French ballads. There is also a library of coffee-table books with touch-screen computers where shoppers can learn more about Chanel and surf its Web site, which is running live broadcasts of Lagerfeld’s shows.The fourth floor, dubbed the Nexus Hall, was especially designed for fashion shows — that is, when young classical musicians aren’t giving performances in a room with acoustics to rival Tokyo’s best concert hall and a Steinway & Sons piano designed by Lagerfeld. Collasse said the convertible space will also host cocktail parties, film screenings and photography exhibitions showcasing the vast collection of France’s national library.

The 100-seat Ducasse restaurant, Beige Tokyo, is bound to be an attraction in its own right, with panoramic views of central Tokyo; a plush, caramel-colored interior and a contemporary French menu cooked in a kitchen almost as luxuriously appointed as the shop. Corporate offices occupy the remaining floors.

Chanel is the latest foreign brand to invest heavily in a splashy flagship in Ginza, with Christian Dior and Pucci arriving in recent weeks. Gucci, which bought a building opposite Hermès, is slated to open in 2006. Hermès, which constructed an 11-story glass brick tower in 2001, was among the first high-end players to lead Ginza’s luxury renaissance. Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Chaumet, Apple and Coach are among other names lining one of the most crowded districts in Tokyo, famed for its chaotic, all-directions crosswalk.

Privately held Chanel, owned by the Wertheimer family, does not provide figures, but Collasse and Montenay underscored their long-term confidence in Japan, where the company operates 36 fashion boutiques, 12 fine jewelry locations and sells its beauty products to 170 doors.

“We think we have a big potential,” Collasse said. “But doing business in Japan obliges everyone to shoot for excellence, because the customer here is one of the toughest and most discriminating in the world. We have to be perfect.”

He said the Ginza flagship should help Chanel once again achieve double-digit sales growth in fashion and accessories next year. Fine jewelry and watches should see similar increases. Collasse noted that Chanel ranks fourth in market share in that category in Japan, after Tiffany, Cartier and Bulgari.

The fact that Chanel is giving members of the public a chance to attend its “red-carpet” show this weekend, in a tent in front of the Imperial Palace, speaks to a friendlier stance for a brand that once welcomed only a few hundred elite to its events. Not that Chanel is trading down.“A lot of our competitors are going to T-shirts. We are not. We are taking people up,” Collasse said.

The collection Lagerfeld showed on Thursday oozed with expensive details, showcasing the handiwork of the couture ateliers Chanel owns. “It’s about refined detail,” Lagerfeld declared backstage, pointing out pumps with a heel resembling a matchstick and a knit dress with an inset waistband of quilted leather. “There’s also a kind of Japanese rock feeling.”

The collection had a dressy, sportswear focus, with ski sweaters paired with skirts meticulously embroidered by Lesage. Lagerfeld carried over his silhouette from couture, showing slightly fuller skirts worn with flat boots.

Evening had a nonchalant feeling, too, with many of the chiffon blouses resembling chic nightgowns. Some numbers had ribbons woven or layered into spectacular skirts and dresses, several with the ribbons snaking around the arms in a gladiator style.

“I call it soft bondage,” Lagerfeld quipped, proving his knack for quotes didn’t get lost in translation.

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