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Berlin — Wilkommen. Bienvenue. Welcome. After a four-year real estate search, MAC has finally opened a freestanding store here.
As the “venue of Sally Bowles,” Berlin is a spiritual home of the makeup artist brand. “There’s always been something very ‘Cabaret’ about MAC. The brand has a naughty Twenties feel,” stated MAC president John Demsey, who was in town for the shop’s “Naked Spin” opening Oct. 9.
Another natural link is the Berliners’ love affair with black. “Part of MAC’s fashion history has a heavy Goth influence. Lord knows I’ve tried to suppress it,” Demsey said with a smile, “but it always comes back.” And that’s just fine for Berlin. Plus the city’s edginess and underground scene makes it a perfect fit for MAC, especially in its new digs on RosenThaler Strasse in Mitte, Berlin’s trendiest neighborhood. The Berlin store is MAC’s fourth freestanding store in Germany, joining Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Cologne. It is also MAC’s 13th German door, and the second in Berlin, the line also having a 375-square-foot presence since 1997 in the KaDeWe department store on the west side of town.
“We opened KaDeWe because [parent Estée Lauder] had a good relationship with the store and there was much discussion as to how quickly money would spill over to that [east] side of town,” Demsey commented. “But a freestanding store helps create a relationship with the artistic community and lets us show who we are. We don’t nationally advertise and a retail store is a branding exercise. If you just sit in the midst of other brands, it’s hard to express your unique personality.”
With approximately 850 square feet of selling space, the Berlin shop in the newly renovated Rosenhofe or Rose Courtyards presents MAC in its typical studio atmosphere, but with a few new twists. The narrow store slants upward, ramp-like, as one proceeds from the street entrance toward the back.
Because of its courtyard setting, there’s a second entrance into the courtyard and a long expanse of windows, which prompted Regis Pean, vice president of store design, to create a makeup “stage area” in the back.
“We don’t usually have so much glass and there’s great natural light,” he noted. “MAC is all about the artist being on stage, and this area is raised, so it looks like a stage. People stop and watch [the makeup artists working with their customers], which is exactly what we wanted,” he said.
For customers who’d rather not be in the limelight, there’s a more secluded corner for makeup demonstrations. The idea of MAC’s in-store activities spilling outside was tested in Milan’s LaBrera store, which features coffee tables outside on the street. And the store’s “doing real well. Sales are up 65 percent,” Demsey said.
As a division of Estée Lauder, however, talking numbers is taboo. However, industry sources estimated the Berlin store could generate about $500,000 in first-year sales. MAC has been active in Germany for five and a half years and, even with its limited number of doors, has a high market share of the prestige makeup market, Demsey asserted. In terms of the European lineup, Germany is MAC’s largest market on the continent.
Germany is an unusual market, he pointed out, in that the lion’s share of the makeup business is generated outside the larger cities. “There are a lot of secondary cities in Germany. We cover all the so-called bigger ones, which is why we only have 13 doors,” he said. “But Berlin has porous borders, and is a conduit into the East. We’re popular in Poland and in Prague, and people from there come to shop in Berlin.” MAC also has one door in Moscow, but “stay tuned,” he said. “There’s more to come.”
The “Naked Spin” opening was populated by fashion-forward Berliners and six next-to-nude souls, their bodies painted in designs created by artists and entertainers like Elvira Bach and Muriel Baumeister.
MAC’s makeup artists spent six to eight hours applying the all-over makeup, which was great to look at, but not to touch, as it easily rubbed off. “It has to be breathable,” Demsey explained at a safe distance from a magenta female warrior and a leaf sprinkled Indian Summer tree man.