LOUIS VUITTON’S ASIAN RISE

Byline: Kavita Daswani

HONG KONG — When Louis Vuitton was planning the festivities to celebrate the opening of its second flagship in this city — just a year after the first one opened — executives were willing to go all out to put on a party their guests would never forget.
“We figured, the stronger the launch, the bigger the sales,” said David Au, Vuitton’s marketing and communications director for Asia. “We wanted to put all our efforts into it.”
As a result, the new store, which opened last Thursday, stayed open until 2 a.m., as guests returned from the nearby opening party to buy a monogrammed bag or two. And by the end of that day, with 5,000 visitors having dropped into the store, sales had been so strong they rivaled the total sales done in all six Vuitton stores in Hong Kong on any given day.
“Louis Vuitton has started the year very well,” said Serge Brunschwig, Vuitton’s managing director for Asia. “We anticipate double-digit growth again this year.”
The newest addition to the Vuitton collection in Asia is 6,000 square feet of prime space on Canton Road in Kowloon. The company has been on a roll in Asia since the opening in February 1999 of a new concept store, with 4,800 square feet on two stories, in the Landmark, a prestigious shopping and office building in the heart of the Central district here. Since then, a similar store opened in Taipei last December. Vuitton has also bought a three-story building in Seoul, which will house a 6,000-square-foot flagship there, scheduled to open by September.
Six days after the opening of the second flagship here, the company was poised to open another 6,000 square feet in Singapore’s Ngee An City — another top retail area. A party for 2,000 was to follow.
“With the opening of all these new concept stores, we will be a clear leader in this industry,” said Brunschwig. The Landmark store reportedly has the highest sell-through, at 85 percent, of all Vuitton stores in the world.
The Vuitton-mania currently sweeping through Asia isn’t restricted to sales in the region, either. According to Vuitton executives, more than 25 percent of the ready-to-wear sold in the brand’s Paris flagship, on the Champs-Elysees, is bought by southeast Asians, excluding Japanese customers.
Vuitton’s designer, Marc Jacobs, was scheduled to attend last week’s opening, but had to cancel at the last minute because of illness. But that certainly didn’t dampen the festive mood. On a nearby pier, Vuitton had erected three marquees: One held an exhibition of 25 vintage Vuitton trunks, flown in from the company’s Paris museum, alongside which Asian antiques were displayed. In another marquee, guests gazed at high Plexiglas boxes in which models posed and go-go dancers danced. And in the third, a 200-foot dining room was set up overlooking the harbor, with massive lanterns overhead and a junk sailing romantically along. Some 300 guests had been invited to a six-course dinner and vintage 1959 Moet & Chandon champagne — Vuitton, of course, is a sister company in the LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton empire, which also comprises the famous wineries. And as dinner ended, another 600 guests had been invited for late-night dancing and dessert.
Vuitton is already planning its third new concept store here, expanding an existing unit in top shopping arcade Pacific Place by the end of the year. Currently at 1,500 square feet, the new shop will grow to almost 4,000 square feet.
“That’s a lot of square footage,” said Vuitton’s Au, “but we don’t think that the market here will cannibalize itself. Sales are strong.”
Like all its new concept stores, the latest was designed by American architect Peter Marino, who made use of the double-height ceilings at the new site. The ready-to-wear and accessories are all housed on one floor, with an upper level — which itself runs to another 8,000 square feet — holding a repair center, customer information unit and warehouse facilities.
The new Vuitton store in Kowloon also has more than 150 feet of frontage, which Marino designed to great effect with large windows and a dramatic canopy.

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