By  on May 8, 2007

TOKYO — Bottega Veneta has opened its largest store in the world here in its characteristically discreet manner, opting for a quiet, chestnut-tree-lined street off Ginza’s main drag.The five-floor, 9,700-square-foot Bottega Veneta complex houses three levels of retail space and the brand’s full product range of apparel, leather goods, fine jewelry and home furnishings. The company’s Japanese offices and showroom occupy the upper floors of the building.Bottega Veneta will fete the store Friday. Creative director Tomas Maier will host a cocktail at the store, which opened last month, followed by a small dinner party at a nearby gallery. Liz Goldwyn and models Du Juan, Ai Tominaga and Anne Watanabe are some of the celebrities slated to attend the event. “Being in Tokyo is always a treat,” Maier told WWD ahead of the festivities.Bottega Veneta is just the latest edition to the bustling shopping neighborhood. Last year, Gucci unveiled its towering retail and office complex here, while Hermès expanded its 10-story flagship to add retail space and a cafe. Construction workers are rushing to finish new megastores for Giorgio Armani and Bulgari. Armani’s flagship will include the designer’s first spa, a joint collaboration with longtime beauty partner L’Oréal, as well as an Italian restaurant and a rooftop bar.Despite the building blitz here, most European luxury groups are having a rough time in Japan, a sluggish market dogged by a weak euro. Both LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and PPR, owner of Gucci Group, recently admitted that their two star brands — Louis Vuitton and Gucci — were facing tougher times in the key Japanese market. Vuitton is expected to have flat sales there this year, while Jean-François Palus, PPR’s chief financial officer, said, “Japan is a tough environment” for Gucci at the moment.But Gucci Group’s Bottega Veneta is a notable exception, thanks to its niche positioning. Bottega Veneta’s first-quarter sales spiked 57 percent in Japan, its biggest single market. Worldwide, the brand’s first-quarter revenue rose 45 percent to 84.8 million euros, or $115.3 million at current exchange, boosted by 18 store openings. Bottega Veneta chief executive Patrizio Di Marco said the brand’s no-logo strategy and emphasis on individuality has appealed to Japanese customers who are growing tired of mass-produced goods and ubiquitous products.“Japanese consumers have changed in their level of sophistication,” Di Marco said. “They have become more and more confident about themselves. They feel less and less of a need to prove themselves by owning certain luxury brands. They have become more individualistic in their purchasing behavior.”Bottega Veneta declined to release investment figures or sales projections for the store, but the Gucci brand paid more than $80 million for just the land to build its Ginza flagship. Di Marco said Bottega Veneta plans to make its new flagship “one of the highest sales-grossing stores in the world.”The store is already developing a following with young men. One recent customer, Komi Ryousuke, a 28-year-old dressed in a fitted gray sweatshirt and headphones, purchased a set of wine glasses as a gift for his boss. Style-conscious Tetsuo Ebi spent about 30,000 yen, or $250, on a brown leather business card holder. “It’s for me,” he beamed. “I just saw it in a fashion magazine.”Maier designed a special edition pewter-hued hobo bag to commemorate the flagship, but the store sold out of them in its first month of operation. Each Ginza Pyramid, a triangular-shaped hand-woven bag, bore a 294,000 yen, or $2,450, price tag.Bottega Veneta’s Ginza store is a block down from the Chanel and Cartier flagships. Other area stores include Printemps, Mikimoto and MaxMara.The store features Bottega Veneta’s signature palette of neutrals and earth tones. Design elements include African walnut ceilings, chocolate suede walls, mohair furniture upholstery and custom-dyed wool carpets from New Zealand, in keeping with the brand’s existing retail concept. A Bauhaus-inspired staircase anchors the center of the store and links the three levels.“When designing each store and adapting the Bottega Veneta concept to different-sized spaces, I always consider the existing architecture, surrounding city and, most importantly, the local client,” Maier said. “I am excited to finally have such a big store in Tokyo, as we have such a loyal and enthusiastic client base in Japan,” he added. “We will be able to showcase the broadest assortment of product available for the first time, which will finally allow our clients the ability to see and touch the product firsthand versus referring to our catalogue and Web site.”The first floor features handbags, luggage, footwear and a corner dedicated to eyewear. The second level houses men’s wear and the brand’s full range of home furnishings. Women’s wear and fine jewelry occupy the third story. The women’s ready-to-wear area features a personal-shopping salon, where a customer can work one-on-one with a styling consultant.Di Marco noted Bottega Veneta has come a long way in the Japanese market since Gucci Group bought the brand in 2001. Before then, Bottega Veneta was best known in Japan for its nylon handbags sold through a local distributor. “If we take into account where we started, the difficulty of the market and it’s high level of competition, and the fact that the luxury market hasn’t grown that much in the meantime, we can better understand how Bottega’s success in Japan has become truly extraordinary,” he said.Today, Bottega Veneta has a network of more than 40 stores in Japan. In late March, the brand opened a smaller boutique in the trendy shopping center Tokyo Midtown, a new complex designed by Japanese architects Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma. Fellow tenants include Harry Winston, Cruciani, Puma Black Store, multibrand store Restir, Marni and Chloé. Di Marco said the brand also is mulling flagships for other Japanese cities such as Osaka and Nagoya.Meanwhile, Bottega Veneta is charting its growth elsewhere. Di Marco said the brand is preparing a watch collection. It’s also branching out into new markets. This year the firm opened its first stores in China, in Shanghai and Beijing. Bottega Veneta will open another 23 stores around the world this year in cities such as Boston; Kyoto, Japan; Florence; Houston and Singapore.

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