Beverly Hills — The new Mikimoto flagship opening here next month is designed as a bold statement to solidify the company’s position as more than a pearl merchant.
The 15-foot, handmade, cast-glass columns that will soon hang down from the ceiling are created to undulate like the sea. Each 60-inch-wide piece weighs 3,000 pounds and gives a significant visual statement for a company that has been working to become an international master jewelry house.
“It’s really in the last few years that we’ve gone more aggressively into jewelry that is not just pearls,” said Robert Artelt, senior vice president of retail and marketing for Mikimoto (America) Co. Ltd., the U.S. subsidiary of K. Mikimoto & Co. Ltd. “It’s a whole new look for American consumers.”
Construction is now at a feverish pace as everyone involved works to have the flagship open by mid-October, in time for a star-studded, charity-tied opening hosted by Toyohiko Mikimoto, president of the parent company. Located just steps from its first, four-year-old site at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel at the end of Rodeo Drive at Wilshire Boulevard, the 1,800-square-foot flagship will have six times the space to exhibit the collections more fully.
Two semiprivate, mirrored salons are enclosed by the undulating cast glass and this Grand Salon segues into a 150-square-foot private VIP area, carpeted, like the entrance, with a rich brown carpet woven with a tiny pearl pattern. The rest of the floor is Wenge hardwood.
Jewelry will be displayed in an open environment that takes advantage of the high ceilings and wide space. The retail concept is part of a new global initiative created by Paris-based De Leu & Associates and first rolled out this past summer in the Roppongi Hills area of Tokyo. In the case of Beverly Hills, the first in the U.S. with the new look, architect Roland De Leu worked with Shimoda Design Group in Los Angeles. The design concept will make its way to other Mikimoto doors, both existing and new. New York could get its makeover in a year or so.
With traffic expected from locals and tourists, the Beverly Hills door could supercede the New York store in sales in three years, estimated Artelt. Industry sources estimate Mikimoto’s U.S. retail and wholesale business is in excess of $145 million, while globally the parent company comes in at about $645 million. The domestic wholesale business includes 250 accounts, including Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. A second brand called Blue Lagoon, retail priced between $150 and $10,000, is sold at Zale’s and Military Post.The brand has namesake stores in some of the world’s toniest locations, including the Ginza in Tokyo, Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New Bond Street in London, Place Vendome in Paris, the Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Beverly Hills.
The Mikimoto name has been synonymous with high-quality Japanese cultured pearls since 1893, when vegetable and noodle merchant Kokichi Mikimoto perfected the technique of culturing pearls for commercial scale by inserting beads into the Pinctada martensii mollusk, or akoya.
In Japan, less than 50 percent of Mikimoto’s business is now in pearls, a shift that is less than a decade old. Europe and the U.S. still turn to the brand for pearls.
“We remain pearl focused because it’s our heritage,” said Artelt. “But we’re starting to look at how we can market to the younger consumer and the nonpearl consumer.”
To that end, the U.S. arm is considering advertising in “more fringe books that are fashion and eclectic in scope,” along with its traditional titles such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and W.
With its eye to a wider consumer base, Mikimoto is appearing in what once may have been the unlikeliest of places for the venerable brand. Its diamond and pearl jewelry hit the pageant circuit this year for Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe. Working to place its jewelry in movies has become a recent strategic initiative and a staffer is now charged with Hollywood pursuits. So far, credits include “Legally Blonde II,” “Uptown Girls” and a host of upcoming feature films.
But it’s the product that is driving Mikimoto’s new turn.
The seven-year-old Milano collection represents a segment of growth and shift for the company. Of total U.S. retail and wholesale sales, Milano accounts for 3 percent and is growing. Founded in 1998 by the Milan-based Broggian family, in the jewelry business for five decades and the European distributors of Mikimoto since 1989, the Milano Collection is designed by sisters Lisa and Giovanni Broggian. The pair are poster girls for the modern line, which includes colored pearls, black diamonds and plenty of edgy styles that can work with a gown or jeans — as worn by the pierced and tattooed Lisa Broggian, who tours the U.S. twice yearly to introduce new pieces to Mikimoto stores.The Broggians are able to realize their minimal spin on pearls with a process they patented that fixes the beads without glue.
“It’s pearl jewelry for the woman who loves pearls, of course,” Broggian observed during a Los Angeles stop earlier this year. “But it’s also for the woman who doesn’t think she loves pearls.”
But even the core signature collection received a boost when Lili Chu arrived in 1995 to help transition the brand into a complete jewelry house. Chu rolled out a pavé pearl line, incorporated precious and semiprecious stones and launched a modern pairing of gold studs with pearls, diamonds and colored gemstones. No longer in-house, Chu continues to design the line.
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