NOTEBOOK FROM BARCELONA
BACK IN THE GOLD
Byline: Barbara Barker
BARCELONA — Barcelona has bannered its core shopping streets with placards in four languages and one dialect (Catalan) proclaiming it “the shopping city.”
An understatement, to say the least. According to a major retailer here, “Barcelona is a multibrand delicatessen, currently basking in una fiebre de oro,” or a fever of gold.
Its golden days diminished after the 1992 Summer Olympics, but observers agree the Catalan capital is back on its commercial pins. Retailers predicted record sales gains of up to 42 percent for 2000 due to surging consumer confidence, an increase in tourists and business travelers, especially Americans, and the strongest dollar in a decade.
“We are seeing an explosion in sales,” said one industry source, “but it’s only happening here, in Barcelona.”
The toniest shopping street in town is Paseo de Gracia, a 10-block stretch characterized by modernist Antonio Gaudi’s florid architecture and wrought-iron lampposts. Some of Spain’s heftiest fashion players — Adolfo Dominguez, Armand Basi, Roberto Verino, Loewe — share retail space with such international heavyweights as Chanel, Escada, Giorgio Armani Collezioni, Max Mara, Zegna and Bally.
Rentals are reasonable by international standards and run roughly $6.50 a square foot.
According to a Verino spokeswoman, “Paseo de Gracia is prime property, the Madison Avenue of Barcelona. The Paseo used to be such a serious street with banks and jewelry stores. The retail boom has only happened in the last two to three years.”
Verino, who has 94 points of sale including 40 corners in El Corte Ingles, is eyeing American shores for his ready-to-wear product. He launched a namesake women’s fragrance in Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman in the fall.
Armand Basi predicted Paseo de Gracia sales would jump 42 percent for 2000. Of Basi’s 14 retail units, “This is the best of the lot,” enthused export manager Anna Camprodon. She added that increasingly Basi is investing in franchised stores to promote and control the image more effectively. “The U.S. is a strong contender, especially in New York’s SoHo area and with the help of a financial partner.”
A spokesman for Loewe, declining to reveal specific figures, said sales “climbed notably” in the Paseo de Gracia store.
Apart from buoyant economic news, there have been a number of store openings and a batch of bright new talents.
Custo Barcelona, with its range of effervescent knit tops, opened a 270-square-foot shop — its first — in the back streets of the medieval Borne district at the end of September, said managing director David Dalmau.
Swedish retailer H&M, and its concept of cheap-and-cheerful apparel, inaugurated two stores last April and June.
“We think the Spanish market really likes us and are happy with customer reaction,” said a spokeswoman. H&M opened in Madrid in the fall.
La Maquinista, a 20-minute drive from Barcelona, is a new outdoor shopping center, the first open-air mall in Spain, “and about as American as you can get,” commented an industry source. Organizers said the vast space, 2.4 million square feet with more than 200 stores, which opened last June, anticipates 15 million visitors a year.
Some of the new faces popping up here include Josep Font, 35, who says he doesn’t want to know from business and “I don’t follow trends. It would bore me to do what everyone else does.” Font’s signature is special occasion dresses and young flippy knits. Thirty-five percent of production — 20,000 pieces a year — is shipped to Europe, Scandinavia and Arab countries.
In addition, the winter 2001 collection was featured in Galeries Lafayette’s young creator department (Laboratoire) last fall, and it was picked up by Bergdorf Goodman.
“Our next destination is the U.S.,” confirmed commercial director Valeria Canepa Casal.
She said that Font’s three-year licensing agreement with Itokin of Japan will end shortly. Other retail options are being considered in the Orient “but preferably not a licensing deal.”
Font has freestanding stores here and in Madrid and Bilbao — one in each city.
Ailanto, which means “tree of heaven” in Chinese, is a seven-year-old brand with a hip edge and an impressive roster of foreign accounts including Bergdorf Goodman; New York’s Legacy and Atrium; Selfridges in London; Barneys Japan and Takashimaya in Tokyo.
The 32-year-old founders, Aitor and Inaki Munoz, are twin brothers. Inaki, the designer, consistently favors a witty juxtaposition of color — no black, “I hate it” — visual graphics, geometric patterns and contrasting fabrics. Inspiration comes from the fine arts, he said, particularly Mark Rothko and Mondrian.
In Spain, Ailanto is distributed through roughly 40 specialty stores.
Also relatively new on the scene are two punchy though lesser-known Spanish lines, Mireya Ruiz for Bad Habits and Gimenez & Zuazo. Each has real point-of-view clothes, a shop here, and each is gathering momentum in the Japanese market.
Ruiz, 29, a former model, makes young body-conscious clothes in high tech materials “for a trim, ageless spirit.” She said sexy cuts and comfort are integral parts of her fashion philosophy, punctuated by her use of stretch fabrics.
She has built up a healthy domestic customer base of 60 points-of-sale.
Gimenez & Zuazo are busy forming a company, so far eight employees. Both partners, Marta Gimenez, 30, and Jorge Zuazo, 34, design, mainly girlish technicolor dresses, knits, layered separates and tops.
Roser Vives, an owner of a multibrand store here called Roser Francesc, pointed out the duo’s “unusual cuts and baby detailing, a little stitching here, a little button there.” The line is a solid sell-through, she said.
Postscript to the retail scene here, multibrand stores work — while they are not so successful in Madrid — and there are lots of them. According to Adolfo Ramos of Jean Pierre Bua, the first (founded in 1984) and still foremost multibrand location in Barcelona, “Everyone who is anyone, I’m talking about Catalans not tourists, walks through this door. Customers want to stand out in the crowd but they won’t go against the tide. Our clients are fashion-conscious rather than trendy.”
Bua’s labels include Dries Van Noten, Martin Margiela, Marni, and Sybilla, the only Spanish brand. “Our retail concept is the resume of an international designer image, so we buy a lot from each source,” Ramos concluded.