Byline: Robert Murphy

PARIS — By opening a new floor dedicated to luxury, the Printemps department store here is snapping into line with the emerging visage of its parent, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, the diversified retailer that is set to acquire majority control of Gucci Group.
And the luxury floor that the 500,000-square-foot Printemps is inaugurating this month arrives just as other Paris department stores are in the throes of upgrading their floors and merchandise.
A massive revamp at the Left Bank’s The Bon Marche, controlled by luxury conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is nearing completion. Last year, LVMH purchased La Samaritaine and is angling to put the shine back on that aging Right Bank retail landmark. And Galeries Lafayette, Printemps’s rival on Boulevard Haussmann, has revamped its women’s fashion floor and last month christened a new men’s department.
All of these renovations have made shopping in Paris’s department stores more sumptuous. And industry analyst Beatrice Bongibault says that the renovations also reflect a change in the retail landscape.
“The multibrand store has more or less disappeared,” she observed. “Meanwhile, a profusion of own-brand shops have sprung up.” As a result, shoppers had fewer venues where they can get an overview of what is available across a spectrum of fashion brands.
“Now, when a women wants a choice, when she wants to evaluate the trends, she goes to the department stores,” said Bongibault. “Certainly, this means that the department stores have become more upscale, but more importantly, they have been trying to find new ways to bring in customers.”
Printemps president Laurence Danon said Printemps zeroed in on luxury because it is one of the most active and lucrative merchandise segments.
“Everyone has decided to push forward with luxury because it’s been a category of double-digit growth,” said Danon.
Printemps operates 17 department stores that do about $828 million. About $414 million is generated by the flagship on Boulevard Haussmann.
According to Danon, sales of luxury goods at Printemps have grown 35 percent over the past two years. This compares to a more modest 9 percent across-the-board sales gain last year.
Luxury merchandise currently accounts for 20 percent of total sales at Printemps. Danon believes she can increase that to 28 percent through 2002 and as much as one-third of the store’s total over the next few years.
According to the store’s data, the average Printemps customer spends about $60, while an average luxury shopper at the store spends between $700 and $1,400.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Danon. “We need to tap this potential.”
Doing that has become easier for Printemps since PPR formed a strategic alliance with Gucci Group in 1999. Last month, PPR sealed an agreement with archrival LVMH to purchase a portion of its shares in Gucci Group, enough for majority control, and to launch a full bid for outstanding shares in 2004. The first step of the transaction is expected to take place on Oct. 22.
PPR’s link with Gucci created de facto synergies between it and Printemps, according to Danon. For instance, many of the new brands offered on the luxury floor are owned by Gucci, including Boucheron and Balenciaga. There also will be in-store shops for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent — the only such arrangement in the world.
“Having these brands, especially the only Yves Saint Laurent in-store shop, sets us apart from the competition in a substantial way,” Danon said. “The association with Gucci brought Printemps something that it did not have. It gave us credentials in the sector. It has allowed Printemps to enrich itself in the luxury realm.”
Chanel, Christian Dior, Tod’s, Celine, Van Cleef and Ferragamo are among the other high-profile brands that will operate in-store shops on the second-floor luxury level. Also represented are Jean Paul Gaultier, Nina Ricci, Etro, Burberry, Chopard, Breguet Blancpain and Bulgari.
The idea behind the floor was not to offer one category of luxury but to treat luxury as a concept, according to Danon.
“Luxury is a lifestyle,” he explained. “A luxury client spends across categories.”
This explains the store’s choice to feature luxury ready-to-wear collections alongside upscale leather goods, jewelry and other high-end products.
The celebrated Paris bakery and teahouse, La Duree, will operate a restaurant and even whipped up a special macaroon to be sold exclusively at Printemps. France’s trendy candle and fragrance firm Dyptique has a stand on the floor, as does Dog Generation, the Fren ch maker of canine fragrance.
Printemps allotted about $5.5 million to the renovation project, which has taken more than four years to complete. Danon said, architecturally, the idea was to “keep the floor understated and modern.”
The walls are painted mint green or white and fixtures are metal, glass and wood. There are thick curtains draped from some walls and the perimeter of the floor is occupied by in-store shops.
Meanwhile, there are tables strewn with luxury knick-knacks like table settings, belts, bags and jewelry.
“We’re trying to appeal to a clientele that is younger than the usual Printemps customer,” said Danon. “They are in a hurry. That’s why they like to have the whole luxury operation on one floor. It facilitates buying.”
Tourists are expected to account for 60 percent of the luxury-floor’s clientele, said Danon. Taken as a whole, tourists are 25 percent of Printemps annual customer base of 10 million.
For that reason, Danon says Printemps is not in direct competition with the stand-alone luxury shops that dot the nearby Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore.
“When people have two hours to shop,” Danon said, “we want to be the place that caters to their needs.”