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MILAN — It is no secret that Donatella Versace has a soft spot for New York and the Versace store opening today in SoHo hinges on this affection while sticking to the brand’s roots.
“The brand has a rock soul. The store is a small jewel and fits with this area and its young, bohemian mood,” said the designer a few days ahead of her trip there for the opening. “New York is the city I love the most in the world, where I had a home for 12 years, and where I count more friends than in Milan.”
The opening of the concept store, located on Mercer Street, will be marked by a cocktail event on Wednesday. The blueprint was conceived by Donatella Versace and English architect Jamie Fobert.
The 1,785-square-foot store launches a new project: A number of curators, from designers to artists, handpicked by Versace, will offer their personal visions or interpretations of the brand through a collection of limited-edition products. Christopher Kane, who designs the Versus collection with Donatella Versace, is the first curator. He will offer items including T-shirts with archival Versace images, golden earphones embellished with the brand’s iconic Medusa head, and a board game titled “Medusa & Greca.”
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Versace also underscored the relevance of associating with and catering to young customers. “Through the H&M [collaboration] and [designing outfits for] Lady Gaga, I’ve met so many young people. They inspire me and they are really important for me,” she explained.
Referring to Fobert, whom she described as “an artist,” Versace observed: “He has a very different approach from my design. I like to surround myself with people who have different ideas.” She highlighted his exploration of diverse materials and his “conceptual” mind-set. “The blueprint is not too far from the DNA of the brand and reflects who I am today, bridging the past with the future,” she said.
Versace was impressed by Fobert’s research of Byzantine mosaics in Syria and Jordan through a series of extensive trips. A marble mosaic, which was inspired by a Roman one that dates back to 800 A.D., sits as the main element in the store. “Photos of floors of ancient churches were reminiscent of the style of Gianni’s houses,” said Versace, whose brother was a collector of antiquities.
Versace credited Fobert with the idea of showing how the brand is projected into the future while mindful of the past. “The mosaic appears as if it was dug up, as if it was being discovered,” she said.
The new era of the brand is reflected in the Plexiglass and brass elements that are suspended and not directly placed above the mosaic, which represents the roots of the label.
The designer said the color palette of the mosaic revolves around white, black, gray, brown and red. The intended effect is that it should “look like it’s been trod on for a long time.” Curved walls add a feminine touch.
“The conversation was more about culture and not about lighting or materials,” said Fobert, who previously worked with Givenchy and Selfridges. “Donatella Versace is shaping the renaissance of the company and we discussed how the store should manifest that and where the brand should place itself in retail. There is a tension between the past and the dynamic future she is creating, and this tension is positive.”
The opulent mosaic harks back to Gianni Versace “without being a copy,” it is “deeply Italian, but not a cliché,” and will be the centerpiece in every new store, said Fobert.
He noted that an “instant rapport” was formed with Versace. “She is unbelievably sharp and really understands architecture.”
The boutique will offer Versace women’s and men’s apparel and accessories, watches, a selection of home pieces and jewelry.
The new store concept will be extended to the Paris flagship on Avenue Montaigne in the first quarter of 2013.
Chief executive officer Gian Giacomo Ferraris said the SoHo store is “a strategic opening, balancing downtown with the Fifth Avenue boutique.”
He said the company is enjoying double-digit growth in the U.S. “As of the end of September, retail sales are up 41 percent on a like-for-like basis,” noted Ferraris.
There are 11 Versace stores in the U.S., one Versace Collection in Beverly Center in Los Angeles, two outlets and a Versus corner in Las Vegas’ CityCenter. Versace brands are available in 200 multibrand stores in America.
Ferraris said while last year sales were evenly split between retail and wholesale, the latter now account for 40 percent of revenues, as the company invests in building its network of stores worldwide.
Growth in established markets like the U.S., as well as in new regions from Brazil to Asia, helped Versace return to profit in 2011, posting earnings of 8.5 million euros, or $11.8 million, compared with a loss of 21.7 million euros, or $28.6 million, in 2010.
Revenues last year rose 16.4 percent to 340.2 million euros, or $472.6 million.
Retail investments in 2012 include the opening of 10 units in Greater China and Southeast Asia, a Versace Collection store in Milan and four new stores in the Middle East — in Beirut, Kuwait, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.