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Hyundai Flexes Muscles as Fashion Retailer

South Korea's Hyundai Department Store Group is making its first steps overseas with the opening of a Tom Greyhound multibrand store here.

The facade of the Tom Greyhound store in Paris.

PARIS — South Korea’s Hyundai Department Store Group is making its first steps overseas with the opening of a Tom Greyhound multibrand store here.

This story first appeared in the March 18, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Handsome Paris, the local subsidiary of South Korea’s Handsome Corp., has invested 3 million euros, or $4.2 million at current exchange, in the two-story unit at 19 Rue de Saintonge in the Upper Marais district, and plans to open additional stores in New York and Los Angeles in coming years.

Founded in 1987, Handsome Corp. manufactures and distributes women’s and men’s apparel and accessories and was acquired by Hyundai in 2012.

“In the wake of this acquisition, Hyundai wants to establish its expertise as a fashion retailer. We needed a tool to demonstrate our capacity overseas, so we chose the world capital of fashion: Paris,” said David Kang, general director of Handsome Paris.

The 3,875-square-foot Paris boutique carries 60 percent women’s wear and 40 percent men’s wear, with ready-to-wear brands including Christopher Kane, Damir Doma, Helmut Lang, J.W. Anderson, McQ, Opening Ceremony, Sacai, Julien David and Ami Alexandre Mattiussi.

In addition, it will carry Handsome Corp.’s men’s wear brand System and its newly launched women’s and men’s leather goods line Decke.

Architects Pierre Beucler and Jean-Christophe Poggioli, whose previous projects include the Comme des Garçons and Lanvin stores on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré here, designed the space, which mixes plywood display units with copper accents.

Women’s and men’s clothing and accessories are merchandised together, with the ground floor an invitation to browsing, while the first floor is designed as a more intimate space, with an original chimney and a VIP area with an antique floor-to-ceiling mirror.

Located across the street from Christophe Lemaire and down the road from Isabel Marant, the store is to host special events such as a coffee bar or photo exhibitions. But its key selling point is quality of service, with multilingual staffers from France, Sweden, Spain and several Asian countries, said Kang.

“Clients should feel comfortable. The staff has to be professional and pleasant and smiling. Very unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find smiling staff in Paris,” he noted.

Handsome Corp. has one stand-alone Tom Greyhound store in Seoul and several corners in department stores there. It also owns Space Mue in Seoul, which carries brands such as Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs and Lanvin.

Kang said the company picked Tom Greyhound as its pilot overseas concept because of its mix of contemporary designers, adding that about half the brands present in the Paris store differ from the mix in Seoul.

“We are trying to keep the DNA of Tom Greyhound, but you have to adapt to the local market,” he said. “European clients aim to be unique. They don’t want to be the same as everyone else. In Asia, if customers see a very beautiful coat or a nice jacket worn by a celebrity, they will want the same one. People tend to copy each other.”

The U.S. stores should open sometime in 2015, the executive said.