By  on December 20, 2000

BERLIN -- The global standardization of Louis Vuitton stores is continuing apace in Germany with the opening this month of a 5,000-square-foot global unit on Kurfurstendamm, this city's key shopping boulevard.The new store offers the full range of Louis Vuitton luggage, small bags and leather goods, men's and women's apparel and footwear. It replaces the now-closed 850-square-foot shop on Fasanenstrasse, which first opened in 1986, and joins a 600-square-foot Louis Vuitton in-store shop for bags and leather accessories in Berlin's leading department store KaDeWe.Louis Vuitton, owned by French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, operates 10 doors in Germany. The Berlin store is the company's fourth global unit in the country, after Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich. And it's the largest, said Gianluca Brozzetti, Louis Vuitton president and managing director.Brozzetti, flanked at the opening by Francois Steiner, president of Louis Vuitton Europe, and Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, director of Louis Vuitton Germany, would not disclose the company's sales in Germany, nor make first-year projections for the new unit here. The three executives, however, were all optimistic about the outlook for Louis Vuitton in Germany, including Berlin, which is one of the country's more difficult retail markets. The capital city generally underperforms the rest of Germany, but according to Lahrs, Louis Vuitton is already considering opening a third door in Mitte in the former eastern part of the city in the next two or three years."Berlin is certainly not so flashy or glamorous as Dusseldorf, Munich or Hamburg, but there's serious money here and it's fine for us," Lahrs remarked. "I am more than convinced that Berlin will be a very important city for the luxury business in the next five years, and it's already strong. It's the most dynamic city around for young, hip people.""We were quite surprised when we opened the shop-in-shop in KaDeWe two years ago," Steiner added. Even though it was less than a mile from the Fasanenstrasse store, "we doubled our business overnight, selling to different customers. And every time we open a global store [in Germany], we're faced with a huge demand for ready-to-wear and shoes."Our image in this country seemed dated," he continued. "It didn't include the new items. But as we've seen in Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf, when we enlarge our stores, providing the full range and more visibility for the product, our sales increase. We are fairly confident about Germany," Steiner stated.The new store here follows the global retail format designed by Peter Marino and found in Louis Vuitton doors opening worldwide. But in Berlin, as elsewhere, there are individual touches. The Kurfurstendamm unit is the first to utilize a ceiling lighting system spanned with white fabric, which also is planned for the new Milan store due to open in January. Other features particular to Berlin: The structured gray-beige plaster walls have been textured in a pattern similar to Louis Vuitton's Epi leather; and the dark wood floors in the entry and rtw departments are made from cumuru, a dense, robust South American wood. The store's exterior, however, is under landmark protection, and will remain in its original state. Built in 1903, the single- floor shop most recently housed the multilabel designer store Kramberg. Its immediate neighbors are Georges Rech and Hermes, with Jil Sander, Versace and Burberry across the street. It is one of the few large-scale spaces to have become available on this exclusive stretch of Ku'damm in years, and it was in high demand. "We beat out Armani by two days," Lahrs claimed.Louis Vuitton will operate 285 stores worldwide by the end of the year, Steiner said. "It might seem like a big number of stores, but if you consider that these are the only doors where you can get Vuitton, it's a very limited distribution."As reported in these columns, the French luxury brand has just opened global stores in New York and Hong Kong, as well as San Francisco and Costa Mesa, Calif. Tokyo Ginza bowed in early November, and an entire Louis Vuitton building opened in Seoul at the end of September. This flurry of activity, however, does not represent an expansion of the Louis Vuitton retail network, but rather "to qualify and requalify the network we have," Brozzetti emphasized."Of course, we have new territories where we're becoming more active," he added. He noted considerable growth in Latin America and upcoming projects in Eastern Europe, including Moscow, where Louis Vuitton is presently negotiating on a site. The company's presence in China is expanding, with its sixth store slated to open there, "and we're starting in India. It's an enormous market, and we're very well known. There's a history of Vuitton luggage there with the maharajahs," said Brozzetti.The Berlin opening kicked off with a party for 1,500 held in a vintage movie house. For those guests who started out the champagne-filled evening in the new store, getting to the Filmbuhne Wien was more than half the fun. Packed into yellow school buses, each passenger was handed three-dimensional glasses -- printed in the trademark LV shape, of course -- which turned the nighttime traffic on the boulevard to a mad whirl of flashing red Louis Vuitton logos.

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