JOHANNESBURG — It’s “opening season” now in Johannesburg as high-end designer labels unveil their latest stores in a new 11-store wing of the massive Sandton City mall dedicated to luxury, called the Diamond Walk.
The area is essentially a reconfigured, extended space within the mall. “We harnessed the allure of luxury and sophistication, and approached the luxury and superluxury brands that best complement the center’s existing range of brands,” according to Alex Phakathi, Stanlib fund manager for the Liberty Property Portfolio. Sandton City belongs to the Liberty Group.
Last week, Louis Vuitton started the month of May with a launch party to celebrate its newly renovated and expanded flagship in the Diamond Walk. Vuitton raised the high fashion stakes in South Africa when it opened its first store on the continent in Johannesburg’s Sandton City mall in October 2004, the first top-tier international luxury brand to establish an African flagship. Many others have followed, including Burberry, Cartier, Paul Smith, Salvatore Ferragamo, Giorgio Armani and Versace.
Gucci had already been in the country a few years earlier, in the adjacent Nelson Mandela shopping center, brought to South Africa by a Singapore-based group, GMT Investcorp, which also had franchise rights for Patek Philippe and Bally. But the arrival of Louis Vuitton marked the first time a luxury brand set up shop in the country on its own, without a franchisee or joint-venture partner.
By December 2014, Johannesburg consumers could shop for same-season mainstream designer brands — Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenburg, Michael Kors, Longchamp and Max Mara, for instance — as well as more niche labels like Stella McCartney, Pierre Hardy, Isabel Marant and Marni, thanks to the arrival of both single-label and multibrand stores in upscale malls such as Sandton City and Hyde Park. And opening soon at the Diamond Walk are Ermengildo Zegna, Tod’s, Jimmy Choo, and Dolce & Gabbana.
But many observers wondered what was taking so long for Prada to set up shop in the country. Earlier this week, the brand finally opened its first sub-Saharan African store, in Diamond Walk.
Pierre Fayard, general manager of Prada Middle East and Prada South Africa, flew into Johannesburg to formally open the 8,611-square-foot space showcasing women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, leather goods, accessories and footwear collections. Designed by architect Roberto Baciocchi, the store features details such as the trademark Prada black-and-white checkered marble floors, green fabric-lined walls, fine crystal tables, plush velvet sofas and black Marquinia marble chests of drawers.
The launch party drew South African celebrities such as Pabi Moloi, Lalla Hirayama, Miss Africa 2015 Liesl Laurie and the American-born rapper Da L.E.S. Prada flew in DJ Misty Rabbit aka Mimi Xu. No word yet if by the end of the evening, the most expensive item on display, a bag priced at around 400,000 South African rands, around $34,000, was sold.
Asked for sales projections, as well as why the brand felt the time was right to enter the South African market, Prada said, “The new opening in Johannesburg, one of the most interesting cities in Africa from a cultural and commercial point of view, is part of a strategic plan which aims to strengthen the retail channel in the African market.
“With this opening, the Prada Group is increasing its presence in Africa, where it is already present with stores in Morocco,” Prada continued. “We are confident that the Prada store in Johannesburg will be a reference point both for the South African clientele and for the many international visitors of the city.”