Robert Siegel is an exceptional skier — he’s just not Olympic caliber.
Once he realized at a young age that he wasn’t going to stand on a medal podium, he decided to pursue his other passion: real estate. And it’s turned out pretty well.
As chief executive officer of Metropole Realty Advisors Inc., Siegel heads a commercial real estate development, brokerage and construction business that oversees properties on Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue in New York; Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, Hawaii, where his luxury tenants include Chanel, Gucci, Christian Dior, Golden Goose, Bottega Veneta, Moncler and Miu Miu.
While he’s achieved great success in real estate, Siegel never lost his love for the sport of skiing. And he was able to indulge that passion in 2013 when he purchased Bomber Ski, a high-end brand whose models retail for an average of $1,900.
Siegel has big plans for Bomber, likening it to the luxury apparel and accessory brands that have put down roots in his properties. “The whole premise,” he said of Bomber, is to “make the best skis, without compromise, for those who want the finest life offers.” And while the skis are high performing and aesthetically pleasing, they’re also part-and-parcel of a luxury lifestyle. “It’s not that much money relative to other products,” Siegel said. “Hermès creates beautiful products of substance and there’s always that person who wants the best.”
Siegel learned about the best at a young age. He was 8 when his mother, Joan Siegel, started a business out of their Long Island N.Y., home working to find prime retail locations for top fashion brands from Europe seeking to establish a foothold in the U.S. “She is considered a legend in the retail fashion industry for leasing flagship locations that are almost impossible to secure for lease or purchase,” he said. “She started with no connections or corporate experience, but between her intellect, grace and interpersonal skills, within about five years became the exclusive broker to leading global high-street fashion brands and to Americana Manhasset. Her clients over the years included Ferragamo, Burberry, Loro Piana, Lanvin, Mulberry and Ermenegildo Zegna and Americana Manhasset, which she continues to represent as exclusive agent.”
In 1969, they didn’t have a very large home, so her son heard everything she did and found it fascinating, he said. So much so that he started working with her when he was 10, got his own real estate license as a teenager and started making deals.
“I found the deal-making fascinating, loved architecture and knew by the age of 12 that my passion was to be a commercial real estate developer,” he said. “I focused my entire education and career on that goal, including becoming an attorney, even though I never intended to practice.”
He started Metropole in 1993, which buys buildings and then redevelops them. That’s what happened with a town house he purchased at 21 East 57th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues in 1980, which would eventually become the LVMH Tower.
“At that time Chanel, Hermès and Burberry were neighbors, making it one of the best blocks in the U.S.,” Siegel recalled. “I then worked consistently and persistently for the next 14 years in an effort to purchase two adjoining town houses: 17 and 19 East 57th Street, which I acquired by 1994. We then retained the youngest architect to have won the Pritzker prize, Christian de Portzamparc, to design what is now referred to as the LVMH Tower, where Christian Dior is the retail tenant. The design of the building was one of the earliest office buildings in the U.S. to escape the typical ‘wedding cake’-like designs of the past and inspire a new concept of how much more beautiful commercial buildings could be, which then spread throughout the country.”
His office is located in a building he owns at 681 Fifth Avenue, which was formerly home to Fortunoff, which operated a store there from 1979 to 2007. He started managing it in the late 1980s and even lived there for several years before purchasing it from the Fortunoff family in 2005.
His plan was to double the height of the building and convert it into ultra-luxury condos with retail on the ground floors, and he got a commitment from Lehman Bros. to borrow the money. He bought out Fortunoff in 2007 in anticipation of the project, hired a world-renowned architect Ricardo Bofill, and was ready to move forward when the economic crisis hit and Lehman Bros. went bankrupt. Siegel pivoted, secured a $130 million loan from Hypo Real Estate Capital Corp. for a gut renovation that revamped everything but the facade of the McKim, Mead & White building that was erected in 1912. He leased three stories to Tommy Hilfiger for its flagship store, and today, the building has just commercial tenants.
His building at 325-329 Rodeo Drive that he bought for $20 million in 2004 currently houses IWC Schaffhausen, which has a lease through 2030, and he has a pending deal another leading luxury house to replace Coach at the site this summer. And his building on Kalakaua Avenue in Hawaii is known as Luxury Row and houses more than 111,000 square feet of luxury international brands.
“As the buildings I buy so rarely become available — I will buy only at the best locations in the best retail cities of the U.S. — we spend as much time representing tenants as we do on our properties,” he said. “We solely invest in buildings where the majority of the value is in the retail space. However, we will purchase buildings with leading office, hotel or residential space above and maintain it at the most elevated level, such as LVMH Tower or 681 Fifth Avenue, each which have just under 100,000 square feet of office space. Our attention to detail and quality in constructing and operating our buildings and relationships has its foundation in working with the most exclusive luxury brands in the world and knowing how to surpass their discerning clientele expectations.”
Siegel said half of his energy is spent acquiring and managing his own properties and the other half is spent acting as a broker. But in his spare time, he’s also working to make Bomber a household name among the tony ski aficionados.
Siegel’s love of skiing was established at a young age when his family used to make the seven-hour trek to Sugarbush in Vermont every other weekend during the winter.
He talked his parents into sending him to Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont for high school where he was trained to be a ski racer. But although he was a strong skier, he realized that he started too late. Most Olympians start racing at age four but Siegel was already a junior in high school.
“So I focused on business and sacrificed the dream,” he said. “It’s my true passion and my love but it’s a hobby.”
And now it’s also a business.
Siegel believes the ski equipment industry today is “badly run and has stagnated for 40 years.” He said most of the big brands are just interested in moving product. “They teach the consumer to think skis should be 80 percent off every February,” he said. “So why should anybody pay full price?” In addition, “they’re typically ugly and are offered in one color per gender.
“The ski equipment industry is all about producing inexpensive equipment which results in cheap production.”
But Bomber is different. The brand was founded by Ross Anapolle and a few partners in 2010 and specializes in high-performance and high-priced skis. Although Anapolle had wanted him to invest when he was launching the brand, Siegel wasn’t interested. But after purchasing a pair and giving them a try, he discovered that they were “the best ski I had ever been on. They do so much of the work for you.”
The skis are handcrafted in the brand’s own factory in Cossato, Italy, from the finest materials in the world, and use cutting-edge techniques and designs. Its motto is “Aim Beyond.”
So when Anapolle called him in May 2013 and said he was in over his head, Siegel started to reconsider. “There is not a single luxury ski brand in the market,” he said. “They’re all made by sports brands.” So investing in a ski that can help the average skier feel more confident on the slopes — and would look good — seemed like a good investment.
He purchased Bomber from Anapolle’s bankrupt estate and the factory two years later.
Since owning the brand, Siegel has expanded Bomber’s reach beyond racing and carving skis intended for East Coast U.S. skiing into models created for powder and touring enthusiasts worldwide. And he’s associated the brand with some other well-known luxury companies such as Bentley. For the automobile company’s 100th anniversary in 2019, the two partnered on an exclusive range of skis that took their design cues from the diamond motifs found in the EXP 100 GT concept car, enhanced with 2-karat gold-plated diamond-shape inserts.
“As a performance-luxury brand, our newest products exemplify my personal mission to produce the finest products in line with Bomber’s tag line, we ‘Aim Beyond’ in all our endeavors,” Siegel said. “To enhance the ski experience, we first had to create skis that eliminate skiers’ trepidations of skiing with those at a higher skill level or on the many days that do not have ideal ski conditions. Bomber’s team is proud to have created precisely this ski, conquering barriers that divide skiers by skill level and thereby further advancing our continued commitment of facilitating unforgettable shared experiences between those that are passionate for the alpine lifestyle and elevating the entire alpine experience.”
He has also enhanced the design, offering graphic artistry and a wide range of colors and even entered into a licensing agreement with both Keith Haring’s foundation as well as the estate of Jean Michel Basquiat for a series of skis featuring their work. He has also collaborated with Kith for a line of skis and with luxury resorts and hotels in the U.S. and Europe to offer Bomber Experiences, over-the-top vacations at five-star resorts.
Beyond skis, Bomber also offers helmets and a small assortment of apparel. In addition to jackets for men and women that can be worn on the mountain as well as après ski, there are neck warmers, wool and cashmere beanies and slippers. And a new assortment of base layers and socks through a collaboration with X-Bionic was added last fall.
But Siegel has owned Bomber for more than seven years now and the brand is still facing an uphill battle achieving a foothold in the market, particularly in America.
“Our biggest challenge has been getting our message out,” Siegel admitted. “The product is remarkable — the skis, the helmets and the clothing — and those who try it are instantly converted.” But the brand needs more visibility.
He said Bomber is more widely known in Europe, although he’s managed to snag a few high-end retail stores in luxury ski destinations in Aspen, Jackson Hole and Big Sky, Montana. “In the U.S., most stores still look at skis as a cheap commodity,” he said. “But in Europe, they’re further ahead.
“We really think we have a chance to change the industry,” he added, saying that he’s determined to build an alpine lifestyle brand centered around “performance luxury.”
But because Siegel’s primary business continues to be real estate, he’s only able to devote a few hours a week to building Bomber. So the plan, he said is to bring on board “the right CEO with a vision to build the perfect luxury performance brand,” he said.