LONDON — Burberry is ready to take Manhattan.
This story first appeared in the May 27, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
On Thursday, the British brand will officially unveil its new Madison Avenue headquarters, reveal plans to double its retail presence in the city and channel $500,000 into local youth projects via the newly established Burberry Foundation. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared Thursday as Burberry Day in New York City.
That evening, the company will flip the switch on the 50-foot-long Burberry logos atop 444 Madison Avenue, and host a party for 300 on the 54th floor of the Palace Hotel that will feature a light show, DJ Alexa Chung and British band One Night Only. The guest list is a mix of Brits, expats and locals, including Orlando Bloom, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Max Minghella, Amanda Hearst, Blake Lively, Sean Lennon, Peaches Geldof, Chloë Sevigny, Lauren Santo Domingo, Matt Dillon, Nicky Hilton, Helena Christensen, Dasha Zhukova and Stavros Niarchos.
“This is the biggest move we’ve ever made in New York, and it’s a huge deal for the company,” said chief executive officer Angela Ahrendts during an interview with creative director Christopher Bailey on Tuesday at the company’s headquarters here. “The new site is a beacon for New York and for the world. Burberry has arrived.”
Ahrendts said the Manhattan headquarters would serve as Burberry’s hub in the Americas, overseeing business in the U.S., Canada and Latin America. She said the Manhattan site is proof of the company’s commitment to the Americas.
“One of our foremost priorities over the past three years has been to invest in underpenetrated markets, which is why we have been aggressively investing in America. We stayed the course, and we still believe it will recover faster than any other market. And we are very bullish about the business north and south of the border,” she said.
The new, 68,000-square-foot headquarters spans four floors of the building, which is located between 49th and 50th streets. Like its London counterpart, the headquarters were designed by Bailey. Both spaces have a neutral palette: a mix of Corinthian gray marble and dark oak floors, polished black chrome fixtures, and chocolate brown, bespoke midcentury modern furniture.
There are LED screens in common areas for beaming runway shows or Webcasts to staff, Halide lighting that switches off when rooms are unoccupied and video conferencing facilities. The new space, which had a soft opening last month, houses 200 employees.
In November, Burberry plans to double its retail presence in New York — historically the brand’s best-performing market in the U.S. — with two new concept stores, which will flank the Madison Avenue headquarters. Both units are empty, and each spans approximately 1,500 square feet. Ahrendts added the company was “aggressively looking” for more space in the U.S.
One of the stores will carry Burberry London, while the other will stock Burberry Brit, the newly rebranded and updated lifestyle collection, which includes outerwear, denim and weekend wear.
“We have elevated the lifestyle collection, and it now has a real point of view and attitude,” said Bailey. The first shipments of that collection will be in November.
But on Thursday evening, Burberry will be engaging with New York City on a level unrelated to retail. The Burberry Foundation, the brainchild of Ahrendts and Bailey, aims to help young people realize their potential through creativity. On Thursday, the foundation will make a $500,000 donation to the Robin Hood charity, to be matched by George Soros per his pledge to Robin Hood. The money will go toward charter schools and job training programs.
“This company is all about creativity, and we want to enable kids to tap into their creativity, and fulfill their dreams,” said Bailey. Ahrendts said the foundation was a natural extension of the brand. “Part of our mission is to help the youth in the communities where we work,” she said.
The Burberry Foundation raises money through private and corporate donations, special events and through in-store sales.
On Thursday, 20 percent of all purchases made in Burberry New York stores, at both 57th Street and the Spring Street location in SoHo, will be donated to the foundation.