VUITTON BRINGING ITS WORLD TO MEXICO CITY

Byline: Kristin Young

LOS ANGELES — Monogram madness is about to hit Mexico City.
Louis Vuitton will open its first “global store” in the Mexican capital next Wednesday, the first store in Latin America to make room for Marc Jacobs-designed women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and shoes.
Citing the affluent — and increasingly label-conscious — citizenship there, as well as the city’s burgeoning attraction among Japanese and other Latin American tourists, Mexico City will soon have access to something other than handbags and luggage from the French luxury goods maker.
Vuitton entered the Mexico City market with three accessories stores 10 years ago. Near the soon-to-open shop at 460 Avenida Presidente Masaryk, a store has been operating since 1996. That one is set to close when the 2,451-square-foot, two-level flagship opens. Vuitton has run two in-store shops at the Palacio de Hierro department store since 1996.
The newest Vuitton door will open in the sizzling Polanco district, the city’s equivalent of Rodeo Drive. Tiffany & Co., Polo Ralph Lauren, Loewe, Hermes and other luxury retailers are neighbors, as are trendy restaurants and clubs. Vuitton has reason to believe its potential is strong in Mexico City. While it would not release figures, a spokesman for Vuitton in Latin America said its other units garnered double-digit sales increases last year.
Out of 22 million people living in Mexico City, between 5 and 10 percent are considered wealthy — making $500,000 a year and living in houses valued between $2 million and $5 million, according to the Mexican Trade Commission in Los Angeles.
“These are world-class, wealthy people with old money,” said Miguel Vega, a deputy trade commissioner in charge of textile and apparel sectors in Mexico. “They own property around the world — condos in Paris, villas along the Mediterranean, houses in Beverly Hills or Malibu — you name it.”
Vega noted most are entrepreneurs in the construction, automobile, retail and food and beverage industries.
The chasm between the rich and the middle class in Mexico is wide. Average annual income per worker was $5,869 in 2000, the latest data available, and this is considered middle class.
But Vega believes even this group has the potential to be upwardly mobile, due to a heightened standard of living since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
Meanwhile, the wealthy have already made a noticeable contribution to Vuitton’s rtw and shoe sales elsewhere, according to executives. Representatives at the Paris and London stores, for example, report their Mexican clientele has a taste for the bolder styles. Last fall’s cotton moleskin long coat with mink pom-poms, $1,650, and knee-high leather military boots, $1,000, were especially popular with Mexicans.
“It’s incredible how many Mexicans we get in European stores,” said Francoise Lavertu, the global store’s director, noting most well-heeled clients from that part of the world hail from Mexico City and Guadalajara.
And right now, the high-end market there is clamoring for product. “Anything that’s new becomes a bestseller for us,” Lavertu noted. “There’s already a huge waiting list.”
With a climate that generally hovers around 70 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night, Vuitton’s wispy and romantic spring collection and a forthcoming cruise line is expected to go over well with the locals, a group that’s projected to make up 99 percent of the store’s customers. There will be no product specifically made for the store.
As for the store design, it’s reminiscent of the Beverly Hills’ unit with two-stories of glass and the signature juxtaposition of wooden floors, steel, stone and glass. But the Masaryk location, at the corner of Moliere and Emilio Castelar, has a rounded facade. Local architect Jorge Aronzera helped bring Peter Marino’s blueprint to life.
Plans are to make the first-floor women’s rtw and shoes. Half of the second floor will be used as a VIP room, where the company expects to see the likes of local pop music stars such as Paulina Rubio and Thalia, along with local dignitaries. Men, who will be able to buy leather goods, briefcases and ties, will have to wait until next year for apparel.
Contingent upon further funding — one source close to the firm said the store cost several million dollars to build — a third level could be added next year.
Aside from getting enough product in, executives have cited other challenges in Mexico City, not the least of which is overcoming the country’s work ethic.
“It’s not such an insult to arrive late for a business appointment, for instance,” said Alex Davila, a Mexican native and a Los Angeles-based spokesman for the store. “It’s not good. But it’s not as bad as it is here, where the clock is the almighty God. In general, it’s much more relaxed. So the follow-through on finding things for a client and keeping a client book up to date has had to be improved.”
Inventory has sometimes come up missing not because of theft, said Davila, but because of mistagging or wrong transfers. Employees have undergone training to help rectify efficiency issues and are implementing a precise inventory tracking system.
Vuitton also had to navigate Mexico City’s tricky infrastructure. The store imported an electrical system and emergency generator from the U.S. because it’s not unusual for the city to go black at times.
“In Mexico City, when your lights go out, your lights go out. But this is Vuitton, and we want to maintain a very high caliber,” said Davila.
There are currently 12 nonglobal units in Latin America — in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. An official launch party to celebrate the Mexico City store has been scheduled for May 30.

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