HAMBURG — Bottega Veneta is on the march in Germany.
The Italian luxury leather goods house opened a boutique in Hamburg last month, just six weeks after setting up shop in Berlin, and six months after entering the German market with its Munich flagship. That’s a very concentrated push in a retail scene that is anything but buoyant.
But creative director Tomas Maier, who was in Hamburg to toast the latest Bottega door, said more than his German heritage is in play here. He’s very bullish about the company’s prospects in Germany, noting “if the market is lousy, that doesn’t mean it has to be lousy for us.”
“Bottega Veneta can be a good brand for Germany. Germans like the combination of design, quality and functionality,” he stated. And while insiders suggest Germany’s well-heeled consumers now prefer to spend their euros away from home, where big-ticket purchases have taken on a politically incorrect tinge, Maier countered: “If you’re hooked to a product, you buy it where you can. This [Bottega Veneta] is limited. If you like it, you buy it where you see it, for when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
The response in Berlin and Munich so far would seem to bear Maier out. While neither he nor other company officials would talk figures, he said, “Berlin is doing nicely and Munich is performing very well. Despite the climate, German exports are up and there’s been expansion in economic growth. I don’t see why [the economy] won’t eventually turn around, and when it does, we’ll have made the first round. We’ll have contacted the clientele and we’ll be ready.”
All three German stores can be summed up in the German phrase klein aber fein, or small but fine. All are situated on prime shopping streets: The Munich store at 24 Maximillianstrasse is about 450 square feet, whereas the Berlin door in Quartier 206 on Friedrichstrasse and the Hamburg shop at 22 Neuer Wall are around 979 square feet. “You have to be prudent and not exaggerate square feet,” Maier commented. “We do things step by step.”Designed by Maier and architect William Sofield, the stores are intimate and understated, and are representative of Bottega’s global retail design. Signature features include walls covered with Asahi linen bookcloth, walnut display counters with slide-out presentation panels sheathed in billiard cloth, vertical window blinds made of palm wood and steel, suede upholstery, custom-dyed New Zealand wool carpets and leather-covered door handles.
Given the square footage, however, the new German stores, and indeed the existing 65 Bottega Veneta units worldwide, can carry only a portion of the full Bottega range. That will change with the new Bottega flagship in New York, set to open on Fifth Avenue and 55th Street in July. With a total of over 10,000 square feet, it will be Bottega’s biggest store in the world, and will feature not only all product categories, including luggage, apparel and home, but will include a showroom as well.
The next major step, according to Maier, is a flagship in Japan that could house the entire product range. “It would be fair to the market. We have 30 stores in Japan,” he pointed out. “It’s my goal, but it’s a long-term project. It won’t happen overnight.”
Acquired only three years ago by the Gucci Group, Bottega has had “a very fast turnaround and the plan is to break even next year,” a company spokeswoman said. Gucci Group doesn’t break out sales figures for Bottega, but Maier said, “The company is doing very well in all three markets — Europe, Asia and the U.S. Our name recognition and brand awareness are growing.”
“We’re one of the few that has a product that never goes on sale,” the spokeswoman said, “and our performance shows what this product category can be. Business in China, Hong Kong and Japan is on fire.” She added that business as a whole “is way above plan.” In one of his last interviews as Gucci’s chief executive last March, Domenico De Sole said history will show that Bottega was the “best and most successful” acquisition the group has ever made. March 2004 sales, he said, were up more than 60 percent worldwide.Although De Sole and Gucci creative director Tom Ford were responsible for bringing Bottega — and Maier — into the Gucci stable, Maier said he hasn’t felt any aftereffects now that there is a new era at the group, which is owned by the French firm Pinault-Printemps-Redoute. “We had a close relationship to PPR before. They’re not people we don’t know,” he said. “And sometimes changes are good. For other people, like Tom and Domenico, too.”
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