CELINE ON THE AVENUE

Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — Madison Avenue’s glamour girls have a new home, now that the revamped Celine store has opened.
The 2,400-square-foot store at 667 Madison Avenue in the former Shanghai Tang building is, for the moment, the most up-to-date of the Celine stores that have been undergoing makeovers since creative director Michael Kors came on board 2 1/2 years ago.
“Did you ever go to the old store?” Kors said during an interview Monday afternoon. “This is the antithesis of that store, which was so dark and heavy looking.” For at least a decade, Celine’s U.S. flagship was a small store on the north side of 57th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues.
“In New York City, more than anywhere else, the ultimate luxury is light and space,” Kors added. “When I saw these 22-foot ceilings, I thought, let’s take it up to the top — let’s make the perfect frame for the perfect picture.”
The new store follows the path set by the Celine store on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, with pale Berber wool carpet, light sycamore wood, dark wenge wood, light limestone floors and translucent alabaster in the display cases. It also comes just after a major store opening in Milan on Via Montenapoleone last month.
“It’s very close to the Milan store,” said Jean-Marc Loubier, president and chief executive officer of Celine since June, as he rearranged handbags on a display wall. “The fixturing and furniture have been tweaked.”
Loubier, who was fighting off jet lag from a trip last week to Beijing, where he opened the first Celine store in China outside Hong Kong, has only been head of Celine for two months. He came from 10 years at sister brand Louis Vuitton, and succeeded Thierry Andretta, who, as previously reported, has become director of acquisitions for the fashion and leather goods group at LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Celine’s parent.
The New York store has a greater selection of merchandise than the old store could comfortably show, said Kors, including the hot shoe line starring, this season, a tan pump that has a waiting list of 100. The main floor is already stocked with fall ready-to-wear, accessories and footwear, while the mezzanine features more apparel and the knitwear line.
Kors has put an American sportswear spin on Celine — separates, plenty of pants, knitwear and a more casual attitude overall — while holding onto an intangible Frenchness that comes through in head-to-toe looks, ladylike pumps and, this season, chunky gold chains. He’s also introducing a slim, new shoulder bag with interchangeable covers, which he claims can double as sophisticated document folders.
Kors is particularly pleased with the store’s spacious dressing rooms meant for group shopping sessions.
“You can get all your girlfriends in here,” he said, demonstrating the sliding door that cuts the largest single room into two separate chambers. “Then, when you’ve had enough of them, you can close the door. Because, you know, there comes that moment when you just need to be by yourself. And of course, we are fully prepped for celebrities.”
“Celine has existed for a long time in the U.S., and it was known but not well known,” said Loubier. He wouldn’t give estimates for the store’s first year, but Celine’s global business is now at about $166 million, and growing.
“With Michael, the whole brand has accelerated,” Loubier said. “We’re redoing our store in Los Angeles, and we’re seeing good growth in our sales at wholesale accounts like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Jeffrey.”
There’s also a fragrance duo launch slated towards the end of next year, which is being done by Inter Parfums.
“When I was at Vuitton, we changed a lot in 10 years without changing the essential,” Loubier said, pointing out that sales were up 50 percent in the first six months of this year alone. “That’s the philosophy for Celine, and we’re clearly investing heavily in the brand. But we have to make sure it follows its own path.”

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