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Vuitton’s Big Japanese Statement

<br><br>TOKYO — The world’s-largest Louis Vuitton store that opened this month in Omotesando here is difficult to miss. The striking building, designed to resemble a pile of LV monogram trunks, reaches high into the sky.<br><br>"This...

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TOKYO — The world’s-largest Louis Vuitton store that opened this month in Omotesando here is difficult to miss. The striking building, designed to resemble a pile of LV monogram trunks, reaches high into the sky.

“This clearly demonstrates our brand’s interest in Japan and the whole of Asia,” declared Marcello Bottoli, president and chief executive of Louis Vuitton Malletier, who came to town for the unveiling.

The 36,000-square-foot store is not only massive: it’s packed with firsts for the brand, owned by luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The Ometesando store, operated by Louis Vuitton Japan KK, is designed to provide total customer service and communications, with such features as a multipurpose hall, a mini museum and the requisite VIP area.

Since launching in Japan some 25 years ago, Vuitton has charted an aggressive business expansion and the Ometesando flagship is the latest salvo. Louis Vuitton, which generates estimated sales of $1 billion in Japan, bought the land and built its own building at 5-7-5 Jingumae, Shibuya.

“Omotesando is worth investing money in. They found the right location for a firm foothold,” said Toru Kanyama, a fashion commentator in Japan. “From here, their expansion begins through a lot of experiments.”

If early traffic is any indication, the area certainly earns its attractive status: 2,800 customers visited the store on its inaugural day. Before the 11 a.m. opening 1,400 people formed a line stretching for many blocks, and some people had waited for four days to be among the first in. Vuitton officials said first day sales, including orders, reached $1.04 million (converted from Japanese yen at current rates).

As reported, Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said last week that business in Japan was experiencing “significant growth.”

“Even before the Omotesando store, sales were good,” he said. “But the store will continue to fuel business.”

The new store has eight floors above ground and two below. It is the seventh “global” location in Japan that sells Louis Vuitton’s full product line: hard trunks, soft bags, small leather goods, pens, watches, exotic leather products, textiles, ready-to-wear and shoes.

The LV Salon on the fifth floor is for VIPs, boasting displays of antique trunks set against walls covered with red metal and striped canvas from its design archives. Here, the brand’s top customers and celebrities can examine products or place special orders in an exclusive atmosphere. The LV Hall, a multipurpose room with soaring ceilings, is meant to host such events as product launches and art exhibitions.

Jun Aoki, the architect who designed the Louis Vuitton boutique in Ginza, designed the building in the image of trunks being stacked up randomly. Each trunk creates a unique interior space, connected by a labyrinth of corridors, offering shoppers the enjoyment of a little journey from one trunk to another.

“The architectural design magnifies the trunk and monogram, the house’s universal symbols,” explained Bottoli.

Omotesando, Tokyo’s answer to the Champs-Elysées in Paris, is an elegant and fashionable shopping avenue with the colonnade of beautiful zelkova trees, but increasingly known for its concentration of architecture and design firms.

Vuitton declined to give sales projections for the store, which employs some 90 sales people. However, industry sources said the Omotesando store should exceed Louis Vuitton’s Matsuya store in Ginza, which hauls in an estimated $60 million a year. Dollar figures are converted from the yen at current exchange.

“Omotesando is one of the best location that people gather, although the consumers there are a bit younger than those frequenting the Ginza,” said Kana Sasaki, analyst of UFJ Tsubasa Economic Research Center.

Ginza is about a 15 to 20 minute train ride from Omotesando.

“Louis Vuitton enjoys super-high recognition. And compared with other luxury brands, Louis Vuitton offers merchandise that everyone in a wide range of generations likes. Reaching the younger generation in Omotesando is beneficial for the present Louis Vuitton.”

The same avenue boasts major luxury players such as Chanel and Gucci, but Gap and Zara are also in the neighborhood. A major Christian Dior building will bow next year as well.

Louis Vuitton Japan KK generated record sales of $983 million last year. It now has 44 doors in the country, including 35 in-store shops in department stores.

According to Bottoli, Louis Vuitton plans to open a shop in Kobe, Japan, in November, in addition to new locations in Moscow; Amsterdam; Chicago; New Delhi, India, and Florence, Italy.

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