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Ferragamo’s United Stand on Fifth

Salvatore Ferragamo is opening its largest store, a 22,000-square-foot, two-level flagship today in New York, uniting its men’s and women’s lines.

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NEW YORK — The separation is over. Salvatore Ferragamo men’s and women’s collections are being united on Fifth Avenue in a 22,000-square-foot, two-level white, beige and gray flagship on the northeast corner of 52nd Street, opening today.

“It’s our biggest store worldwide, I’m proud to say,” said Massimo Ferragamo, chairman of Salvatore Ferragamo USA. “New York is still the center of the world for Ferragamo. We are very happy when we can bring all the merchandise together.”

The new flagship cost about $15 million to build and is expected to produce in excess of $20 million in annual sales. “I don’t consider that ambitious,” Ferragamo said. “It’s conservative, and it’s close to the volume we have already been doing on Fifth Avenue.”

The flagship seamlessly combines two buildings. One housed the former Ferragamo’s women’s shop, part of which is being leased to Ermenegildo Zegna, the other housed a Banana Republic. Men’s wear has been transplanted from the former Ferragamo men’s boutique in the Trump Tower.

The merchandise story unfolds in its entirety as you ascend the walnut staircase that wraps around a column, offering a 36O-degree view of the store and all its departments — ties, scarves, eyewear, leather goods and handbags, shoes, fragrance, children’s, and ready-to-wear — which feel like separate rooms. Women’s is on the main floor; men’s is on two. Men’s shoes are priced primarily at $300 and up; ties, $120; women’s shoes, $250 and higher; ready-to-wear averages $750, and handbags are priced $500 on average.

At the top of the staircase, there’s a 16-foot bridge spanning the two sides of the men’s floor, with a shoe salon to the right overlooking Fifth Avenue, and men’s silks, leather goods and apparel on the left.

The 14 1/2 foot windows provide plenty of natural light, with a very open facade giving passersby a complete view of the interior. At night, the opposite effect of glowing from within is achieved, creating a strong statement on Fifth Avenue.

Inside, there are architectural illusions. The fixtures and ceilings seem detached from the walls, as if floating. Even the stairs seem to float, but are actually connected to the base with half-inch steel “fins.” The staircase and second floor are rimmed by 250-pound, 3/4-inch-thick glass panes that serve as guard rails.

The overall effect is dramatic — a flagship with height, depth, lightness and extended vistas inside and outside, past Cartier and down Fifth Avenue.

“Our new generation of stores is modern, very light, fresh, with touches of wood and warmth,” Ferragamo said. “The decor is designed to emphasize product, not to bring the customer to another living room.” While there are leather sofas, the decor is not residential in spirit. “But it is something that can feel very comfortable and enables you to see very well the merchandise,” Ferragamo added. “You also get a feeling for what’s outside, and it’s not disruptive to the merchandise. On the second floors of stores, you rarely see the street. This is not a large store. This is a well-conceived store. We don’t really have much more space” compared with the old two sites combined.

The concept seems simple, but the execution wasn’t.

“This was a huge infrastructure project,” said Mark Janson, partner in Janson Goldstein, the architecture and interior design firm for the store. Richter + Ratner was the contractor.

Janson explained that certain columns were removed and relocated for structural support and to demarcate merchandise departments. A new limestone facade was created. “The space was manipulated so that Ferragamo could really show the product,” Janson said.

Also, a 1,000-square-foot gallery space for Ferragamo exhibits, art shows and special events was created. The Ferragamo family maintains archives housing 15,000 pairs of shoes. Some of them, such as a decades-old pair with a cage heel that you can see through, may be reintroduced in an updated form at some point. “We always go back to the archives for inspiration, not for copying,” Ferragamo said. “We can reproduce the cage heel, but we would do it by taking it one step further using other materials that give you that transparency.”

Not long ago, the Ferragamo family discovered 300 patents in Italy’s trademark office done by Massimo’s father, Salvatore. “Ninety percent of them are shoes, but there are also some missile systems, aircraft protection systems and a fortress. My father was very creative,” Ferragamo said. “Most of his designs turned into products, but some were never realized.”

Now that Ferragamo has opened its largest store in the world, it is eyeing more units. An opening in Santana Row in San Jose, Calif., is set for September; Houston is a possibility, and the Palm Beach and Chicago units are being renovated. The average Ferragamo store is 5,000 to 7,000 square feet. Ferragamo in Tokyo, with 18,000 square feet, is the designer’s second-largest store; Florence ranks third, with 10,000 square feet. Recent openings, with the exception of the Fifth Avenue flagship, have been smaller, sometimes in the 3,500-square-foot range.

“Keep in mind, we are trying to be more efficient,” Ferragamo said.

Rather than curtailing much selling space in the smaller units, the back-of-the-house space has been cut down the most because the Secaucus, N.J., warehouse has become far more efficient and closely linked to the stores. Ferragamo said it can now house 60,000 to 70,000 shoes on any given day and is rigged to automatically send an order after a sale is made.

But for Ferragamo, business hasn’t been easy for the past two years, particularly at the SoHo store, which was downsized to one main level. The lower level was closed. Ferragamo said SoHo has always been tough, though performing a little better lately, while recently-opened stores in Manhasset, N.Y., and Atlanta are on plan.

Men’s wear has been soft, including the small amount of outerwear and separates offered, though shoes and ties — where the emphasis lies — have been steady. Men’s shoes have been up 10 to 12 percent in the U.S., ties 3 to 4 percent.

“Any pluses I’ll take in this economy,” Ferragamo said.

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