By  on September 25, 2007

MILAN — Although located on Via Spiga, one of the busiest streets in Milan's fashionable golden triangle, the new Maison Martin Margiela boutique reflects the "Margiela way," according to the company's chief executive officer, Giovanni Pungetti.

Nestled in a courtyard, the 2,160-square-foot boutique, the company's first in Italy, isn't obvious to passersby, although white footsteps sprayed on the pavement lead to the entrance. The two-story store is in a commercial area, but "not supervisible," said Pungetti, and is in line with the Belgian designer's elusiveness and the brand's avant-garde streak.

"We wanted to be in a shopping area, making it easier for our customers to reach us, without betraying the values of the brand," said the ceo. The boutique will be inaugurated with a party on Tuesday.

Pungetti said opening a store in Italy had become "a priority," as the country is one of the brand's three largest markets, together with Japan and the U.S. The company has no intention of aggressively pushing a retail strategy, but Pungetti said the stores help to communicate its essence. Margiela is currently available at 350 points of sale worldwide, including freestanding stores in Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles, its 12th boutique, which opened last month. A store in St. Petersburg will open by the end of the year.

While decor pieces that are staples in other stores around the world are recognizable in the Milan shop, such as the chairs covered with white cotton slipcovers, there are new site-specific items: white-covered books piled and lined up to form shelves, and a structure of antique French window frames suspended from the ceiling and lit from the top, creating a trompe l'oeil effect on the white walls.

The space, located in a mid-19th-century building, was originally a private home. The company's architects recovered unique pieces, such as a precious ironwork handrail on the staircase that had been walled in by the previous tenants, and knocked down walls that had been added to create smaller rooms, for an airy, lighter feel. The floors are covered with white cowhide or a carpet with a gray hardwood-floor effect.

"We work to adapt our style and design to the structure of each store and each country," said Pungetti, who declined to project sales for the store, although he estimates the brand will have total sales of 55 million euros, or $76.7 million at current exchange, this year.At the shop's second entrance overlooking Via Senato, a garden opens to the street and takes inspiration from the botanical garden in Palermo, Sicily, with tiny white pebbles, a white antique bench and a stone fish tank that contains tiny white fish and a single red one — "Rosso" in Italian. (Diesel chief Renzo Rosso controls the Margiela brand through his Only the Brave Srl group.) Photos of the garden are framed in the windows on the lower floor, which is below street level. The windows are original, as the street was once a canal before the city decided to cover it with the existing street.

Rosso said he is very pleased with Margiela's business and spoke about the designer in enthusiastic tones. "He's the greatest designer in the world, and we are proud that he's part of our stable, that he's being watched and admired," said Rosso, referring to Marc Jacobs' recent remarks on how much influence Margiela has on himself and other designers.

"We have been growing the business from 18 million euros [or $25.3 million, when Only the Brave took control in 2002] to 55 million euros [or $77.5 million] while raising the brand's status, without just trying to make money out of it, squeezing it [for our own benefit]. It's our responsibility to continue to do good things. It's a great moment for Margiela — the new L.A. boutique went over our budget by 50 percent."

Rosso said the brand is expanding its accessories and small leather goods collections. "We've more than doubled them and they have more visibility," he noted. In fact, accessories are prominently displayed at the entrance of the Milan store.

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