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Sonia and Willy Bogner are captivated by the American spirit and are at home in Manhattan, so opening a Bogner store in SoHo made sense.

This story first appeared in the October 23, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The husband-and-wife team, who once had a Manhattan apartment, arrived from company headquarters in Munich for the opening-night party Tuesday, which was enlivened by a multimedia display of five 60-inch rotating plasma screens. The presentation in the 2,400-square-foot store at 380 Broadway highlighted the company’s 75-year-plus history, with action-oriented video footage shot by Willy Bogner, an accomplished photographer and filmmaker.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s Harold Koda, Damon Dash, Princess Ismene Chigi and Olympic skiing gold medalist Stein Eriksen were among those taking it all in. Across the room, mannequins encased in clear cylinders that looked like something out of “Star Trek” displayed show pieces such as a so-called Crystal Communication Suit that was covered with almost 22,000 Swarovski crystals.

Playing up the brand’s ski heritage, the store has a fireplace with a sitting area and bookshelves. Willy Bogner’s Olympic diploma from competing in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics is propped on a shelf. The two were clearly energized to be in New York.

“We lived in Vermont, we lived in New York, we had a ranch [near Telluride, Colo.] and we used to have a house in Saint Croix,” Willy Bogner said. “We really like the American spirit. It has influenced our way of thinking and our creativity in business for a long time. No matter in the short term if America is having troubles or people are criticizing it.”

They are so enthralled with Americana that Willy Bogner’s only footwear is cowboy boots, and Sonia Bogner has a weakness for American jeans — she owns hundreds of pairs. Now they are eager to share their branded styles with New York shoppers. The Sonia Bogner, Bogner Woman, Bogner Fire + Ice, Bogner Sport and Bogner Kids lines, as well as the brand’s accessories collections, are showcased in the new space.

“Most people know us here for our skiwear, but in Europe, we are known more as a fashion brand,” Willy Bogner said. “The combination of fashion and sport is always strong….We speak both languages.”

After operating two Madison Avenue stores at different times in the Nineties, the lively downtown scene is a better fit for the $220 million brand, and required a three-year search for space, he said.

“It’s kind of fun down here,” Bogner said. “It has a more creative atmosphere and a better mix of people. It has more life, art and creativity.”

The New York location is the 12th company-owned store, and is next to Cipriani, a popular destination with Europeans. Bogner has 37 franchised stores worldwide.

Despite the global financial crisis, Willy Bogner, chairman and managing director, said he is “optimistic” and is planning for a 12 percent increase in sales this year. In recent years, annual growth has been 15 to 20 percent, he said.

“Everyone is concerned; we have to be,” Bogner said. “But we are less concerned than other people. We have a very strong, safe brand. In difficult times, people tend to go to the brands they trust….After this storm settles, we may come out stronger.”

To accomplish that, Bogner is lining up new licenses for footwear, fragrance and sport-related beauty products, and setting up a sourcing and distribution center in Hong Kong. The couple is considering launching its 160-page Bogner magalogue, in which they handle all creative aspects, including modeling, in the U.S. In Europe, where annual distribution is 2 million, the publication has been a force in getting shoppers to stores. Willy Bogner said the payoff is comparable to $15 million to $20 million worth of advertising.

“I always say, ‘We’re in the communications business,” he said. “It’s one thing to make a nice jacket, but it’s another thing to communicate the feel of it.”

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