NEW YORK — Burberry finally has its own American megastore.
The British luxury goods company opens the doors of its largest store in the world here today, one reminiscent of a tony Manhattan town house infused with the requisite Burberry plaid and touches of British wit. Spanning six floors and 30,000 square feet, the flagship at 9 East 57th Street at long last affords Burberry a retail space big enough to accommodate its ever-expanding product categories.
"We liked the modernity and the contemporary flavor that the brand had taken on in recent years, but we didn’t want to lose the traditionalism and the classicism that the brand was known for," said Rose Marie Bravo, chief executive of Burberry. "So the concept was that combined balance between a modern brand with something for today as well as referencing the past. All of the physical attributes that you’ll see — the fitting rooms and the facade — everything is supposed to be a reflection of that."
The store’s facade makes for an inventive rendering of the signature Burberry plaid and is made of pale Magny Jaune stone (from a quarry in France), glass and steel mesh. In keeping with Burberry’s typical Britishisms, the windows are a riotous rendition of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party replete with multicolored teapots, teetering stacks of pastries and a tablecloth made from deconstructed Burberry trenches.
As far as forecasting first year sales for the store, Bravo declined but did say, "We were performing well over $1,000 a square foot in the existing [store] and we expect to go at that rate and higher" in the new, larger space. At 24,000 square feet of selling space, that would mean sales of at least $24 million a year.
The 57th Street location began as a 10,000-square-foot store in 1978. While the reinvented Burberry had outgrown the site in the last few years, the company believed it was important to remain on that retail strip so it purchased the adjacent space. Nearby stores include Niketown, Tiffany, Jil Sander and the large space taken by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
"We love the location. Fifty-seventh Street is the center of luxe, New York City shopping," said Eugenia Ulasewicz, president of Burberry USA. "We wanted customers to be able to look out on the bustling street and in turn have people on the street looking in on all of the activity in the store."The interior of the vast space — designed by Mark Pinney and Randall Ridless — espouses a separate, signature look on each level. The ground floor with its British soldiers in authentic uniforms standing guard, white oak and red polished plaster walls and toffee colored mosaic tiled floors provide a textured, but muted backdrop for Burberry accessories such as handbags, mufflers and hats.
Throughout the rest of the floors, leather chairs, mosaic inlaid coffee tables, lamps and handwoven area rugs lend a residential feel. Decorative touches include custom-made busts in tartans, plaids or even vintage Burberry labels as well as framed photographs of the company’s ad campaigns through the years, evoking a "feeling" of Burberry’s history. "That’s the whimsy of Burberry. We want people to come here and smile," Ulasewicz said.
Other elements of the store include a tea bar with a signature Burberry tea blend. The store also houses the company’s new made-to-order trenchcoat service for men and women and a selection of vintage Burberry rainwear.
"We knew that we wanted to expand the physical space because the store had been profitable, but we ran out of room," Bravo said. "New York had been the largest volume that we’d been doing in the world in terms of one single store because we hadn’t had a store in Tokyo up until very recently. We felt the city could really sustain that kind of space. As we’ve evolved over the last five years with new categories, moving into different merchandise spheres, we had been testing various product categories…so we were ready to really roll some of those out in a more full-bodied way."
The store will carry both women’s collections, London and Prorsum, as well as men’s and children’s lines and a range of accessories, fragrances and home products.
The Burberry brand is carried at exclusive U.S. retailers such as Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Jeffrey, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Retail prices for the Burberry London women’s line range from $150 to $495 for pants, $250 to $1,600 for skirts, $595 to $995 for blazers, $695 to $995 for trenches, $155 for $495 for mufflers and $175 to $995 for handbags. Prices for the Burberry Prorsum line are more expensive and range from $995 to $1,395 for blazers, $395 to $795 for pants, $425 to $695 for skirts, $295 to $495 for shirts and $445 to $995 for handbags.But Burberry’s retail expansion doesn’t end here. The company, which was listed on the London Stock Exchange this summer, opened another London unit in Knightsbridge last Saturday and is opening a store on Santana Row in San Jose, Calif., next week. As reported, the company has announced plans to open a store in Milan next fall and is potentially looking at opening a flagship in Madrid after opening one in Barcelona earlier this fall.
"In a country like Italy, where you really don’t have a department store, it is really difficult to have an expression of your brand because you are dealing with very small, entrepreneurial shops that carry your products, but you never have everything under one roof," Bravo said. "So that’s why this Milan acquisition was so pivotal for our Italian business and since Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world, it was important to have a retail presence there."
According to Bravo, approximately two-thirds of the company’s U.S. business is retail, with the remaining third wholesale. "That’s roughly what we’ve been working with, and it’s a model we’re comfortable with, but it varies by country," she said. Until its recent store opening in Barcelona, Burberry’s wholesale business in Spain had been 100 percent. In Japan, where Burberry has a license with Mitsui, the company’s distribution is primarily in department stores so the penetration of retail on the same scale as that of the U.S isn’t currently possible. In London, the retail-wholesale split is about 50-50, Bravo said. Burberry has total annual sales of about $728 million.
"What we tried to do is come up with a vision that would encompass the growing brand," Ulasewicz said. "And we think we’ve done it."
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