SAN FRANCISCO — With flagship openings here and in Rome within a week, Burberry continues to show the sun still has plenty of room to shine on its British luxury goods empire.
A second door in Italy opened on Rome’s swanky Via dei Condotti near the Spanish Steps on Oct. 14. Only a week later, the renovated and expanded flagship here, steps from Union Square, bowed with much fanfare, including a visit from company chief executive Rose Marie Bravo.
“Having lived here for those five years [during her ceo days at I. Magnin], I wanted to do something special for the city,” said Bravo, referring as much to the evening’s two parties as the decision to make San Francisco the only U.S. store based on the minimalist aesthetic of the Milan flagship, opened a year ago. The store in Rome also is modeled along the same vein.
And the Burberry juggernaut is far from slowing. Next month a unit opens in Boca Raton, Fla., bringing the U.S. store count to 32. So, too, are renovated shops in Dallas and Paris. With these latest doors, there are 90 Burberry stores in 24 countries.
As recently reported, Burberry’s retail sales in the first half rose 4 percent to $200 million from $192.6 million a year ago and account for 32 percent of the company’s total revenue. New stores are contributing to the rise. North America saw 15 percent growth in sales in the half, followed by Europe with 7 percent. Asia Pacific leads as the best-performing region with a 29 percent increase.
“There are a lot more stores to come,” noted Burberry USA president Eugenia Ulasewicz as she led a tour through the five-story building here, still filled with a small army of builders, cleaners and event staff just 90 minutes before the party. “In the U.S., our strategy has been remodel and renovation — Boston, Washington D.C., Denver and Ala Moana on Oahu, Hawaii, will be ready by next August or sooner.”
For Bravo, the decision to go more Milan in San Francisco than London’s Bond Street, the signature look of the majority of stores worldwide, was a love note to her former home. “We really did a melding of what is the best of Milan with some of the best of Bond Street,” she said, pointing out the inherent classical revival architecture of the space, as well as the generous use of dark woods. “But we decided San Francisco is such a sophisticated, elegant city, the Milan model was suited for this city.”
In San Francisco and Rome, the decor blends British elements, like oak wall panels, with homey looks such as creamy quilted leather ottomans and vanilla- and claret-colored overscale Berber rugs. Each is stocked with the men’s and women’s Burberry London and Burberry Prorsum collections, as well as accessories, shoes, children’s wear and perfume.
The burgeoning home category, from horn shoehorns to check-cut crystal, is also part of the San Francisco store, sprawled mostly across a long and lighted rectangular block between the first level’s accessories and children’s departments.
A second-level mezzanine here, separate from the second floor, houses the entire Prorsum line. “I think that will be a real hot spot for that store,” said Bravo. “Prorsum fits well with the people of this city; I think it is going to be big here.”
Stores in the Union Square area average sales per square foot of about $250. Burberry declined to reveal sales projections for the San Francisco or Rome stores, however.
At nearly 8,000 square feet, the two-level Rome space, designed like the Milan store by architects Virgile & Stone, was once home to a Sisley store on the lower level, while offices and a beauty salon occupied the top story.
New York-based Barteluce Architects and Associates helmed the San Francisco project with interior design consultant Randall A. Ridless of New York. With the company’s in-house teams, they bumped up the Twenties-era building, which Burberry moved into in 1988 and purchased four years later, by 4,500 square feet, bringing the total selling space to 12,500 square feet.
The overhaul took 10 months of gutting and reinforcing the building in earthquake land. In the interim, San Franciscans were able to visit a temporary space across the street, closed just minutes before the party.
There are a few features distinct to San Francisco: the first-level limestone mosaic flooring resembling the iconic check pattern and a 10-foot-long slab cut from a tree trunk on top of a brushed steel X-frame stand.
Rome also boasts its own touches. A 17th-century fresco and a vaulted wooden ceiling took restorers months to uncover. An entire room is dedicated to footwear, a category Burberry has expanded in the last year. A lit shelving unit houses a wall of shoes, from tweed flats and chunky heels to rain boots and sandals in signature plaid.
Joy Frommer, managing director of Burberry Europe, said it’s especially challenging to find adequate space for large stores in Italy’s historic city centers. Negotiations for the long-term lease (she couldn’t quantify the length of the lease) on the Rome store took close to two years, she said. Construction started in March.
It’s not certain what Italian city could be next for Burberry, but Frommer said the company is looking at Florence and Venice and perhaps Portofino.
— Rose Apodaca Jones and Amanda Kaiser