NEW YORK — Diane von Furstenberg took a hiatus from opening stores during the recession, but now she’s back to signing leases.
President Paula Sutter said the company has a five-year plan that calls for at least 20 worldwide store openings. About eight of the units will be in the U.S.
“We have been slower in establishing DVF shops in the U.S. than we have abroad,” said von Furstenberg. “We feel our distribution in specialty stores and better department stores is excellent [in the U.S.]. As we do more brand extensions with accessories, we will be looking at opening more stores in the U.S. Opportunities are what we follow….Our customers are young and active — the ideal customers, really — so we open where we think they are and where they want us.”
Von Furstenberg described 135 Wooster Street in SoHo here, a 2,000-square-foot space she leased, as one such opportunity “too good not to grab.” The store, which is opening in July, wasn’t planned, but DVF is family owned and so it can execute a new concept quickly.
“It will not be like our headquarters store in the Meatpacking District,” von Furstenberg said of the Wooster Street site. “It will be more focused on items. We want to use it as a lab for bestsellers. Vintage may play a big part — certainly very iconic pieces.”
Sutter said the store will be used to test new packaging and merchandising concepts. “As beautiful as our stores are, we have to work harder to get the key items out and popping,” she said. “SoHo is a terrific opportunity to be supercreative and use it as a lab to funnel ideas through all our stores and our wholesale business.”
Von Furstenberg said the store will have the “DVF language in its decor, but I think we want to experiment with it and make it fun. The first must in our stores is that they are profitable and serve the brand properly, that the merchandise looks good and that the experience is pleasant. Then we can experiment organically and see where it will lead.”
Despite a sizable business — $200 million in sales last year — von Furstenberg has opened only five stores in the U.S. A unit is opening in Boston in July, and Sutter said she has her eye on four potential locations — major cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas are of interest.
DVF’s 28 international stores are a combination of company owned, partnered and hybrid licensed, said Sutter.
“We have a very good retail business in Europe and in Asia,” von Furstenberg said. “São Paulo will be our first South American store and it’s very promising.” DVF unveiled a unit in São Paolo at the Iguatemi Shopping Center on Monday.
DVF stores are slated to open in Istanbul in June and Dubai in September. “There’s a big push all over the Middle East,” Sutter said. “Everybody’s talking about China. We have a separate strategy with partners in China that we’re working on.”
For all the expansion, both domestic and global, DVF believes the Web site is the company’s window on the world. “West 14th Street is our headquarters and the Web is the anchor, on some level, of everything we do,” said Sutter.
“I don’t want to be everywhere,” said von Furstenberg, “but I want my stores to be a DVF oasis everywhere in the world, where women feel invited, catered to and where they leave happier than when they came in.”