LONDON—Asprey is back on New Bond Street with big business plans — and a store that’s all about old-world chic.
“The time has come to show the London public who we are,” said Gianluca Brozzetti, chief executive of A&G Group, parent of the Asprey and Garrard brands, during a walk-through of the 40,000-square-foot store Friday morning.
“This is a very ambitious project: We are now Europe’s largest luxury goods store, and we’re not competing with department stores or fashion houses. We’re offering the best of everything — and competing with companies such as Cartier and Bulgari.”
The flagship opened last week after two years of building work and an investment of more than $50 million. The opening was postponed from last November because of complications with British building laws.
But even though this is a big moment for Brozzetti, a luxury goods veteran, there’s no question that his view of the future is a cautious one.
Brozzetti said historical sales highs for the original Asprey store, which was built on the same site in 1847, were $60 million to $70 million, although he acknowledged it’s going to take time for the company to scale those heights again.
“We have to be very realistic,” he said. “We are post-Sept. 11 , we are rebuilding the history of this house and, while we want this to be one of the most productive luxury stores in Europe, luxury needs time and we need time. One day we’ll get back to the historical sales level. Our shareholders know that, and they are here for the long run.”
Morgan Stanley Capital Partners took a 20 percent stake in A&G Group in February, joining Lawrence Stroll, Silas Chou, Edgar Bronfman Jr. and the Luxembourg-based TAG Group, a holding company and the former owner of TAG Heuer watches, as shareholders.
While Brozzetti declined to give any sales projections for the new store, he acknowledged the temporary Asprey unit — a 6,000-square-foot location up the street — was already outselling the 20,000-square-foot Asprey flagship in New York that opened last November and cost another $50 million.
“London is the mother house, the original flagship, and by definition, bigger than the New York store. Historically, it has sold the most,” he said.
Brozzetti added the next two years will be crucial for the brand. “We’re at the end of year three now, and the goal is to break even in year five or six. After that, we expect to start turning a profit,” he said.
A&G Group, which is privately owned, reported sales of $31 million in the fiscal year ending March 2003, down from $54 million the year before. Brozzetti said the drop in sales was an anticipated one, as both the New York and London stores were still under construction and London was trading through a temporary unit.
Industry sources say the New Bond Street store, which has 20,000 square feet of selling space, will have to generate a minimum of $36 million to $54 million in annual sales to stay afloat. All figures have been converted from the pound at current exchange.
Despite the steep sales hurdle, industry observers are upbeat about the new Asprey’s prospects.
“In the past, Asprey was incredibly dependent on a very small group of high spenders, many of whom were from the Middle East,” said Robert Clark, research director of Retail Knowledge Bank in London. “Those people are still in London, and there are clearly a lot of rich Russians who have just come into the marketplace, too. Much of Asprey’s merchandise is also at the high end of the market, which is least vulnerable to economic conditions.”
He said Asprey’s challenge will be to sell the less-expensive items, such as flower-print scarves, suede loafers and paper bookplates. “They’re moving down market — so to speak — and that’s going to make them more vulnerable to swings in the economy and consumer patterns.”
Asprey’s remodeled space in London, like the New York store, was designed by Lord Norman Foster and decorated by David Mlinaric and is a study in contrasts: On the ground floor, under a large glass atrium, a snail-like staircase sits against a backdrop of 18th-century exposed brickwork.
Some walls are covered in cream-colored leather, while others are adorned in green-and-white William Morris wallpaper. In one room, oil paintings of Asprey heirs line the walls, while next door, computer screens glow with images from the latest Asprey ad campaign. (Speaking of ad campaigns, the fall one stars Keira Knightley — Asprey’s poster girl — and has just been shot by Craig McDean at Stanway House in Gloucestershire.)
The London Asprey couldn’t be farther from the New York unit with its urban flair, contemporary feel and vast spaces.
The New Bond Street store comprises seven buildings, most of which were constructed in the late 18th century, and each one has been restored with its period details and its own separate entrance and staircase so the buildings can, if need be, become independent once again.
That patchwork of period details adds to the store’s quirky charm: One building boasts Palladian windows and delicate, wreathed moldings on the ceiling, another has leaded window frames. In another room, a white, gingerbread-house facade juts into one of the jewelry rooms.
Mlinaric’s love of historical details comes through in full force: Rooms fit for Jane Austen’s cast of characters are painted in shades of creamy Wedgwood blue or dusty rose; fireplaces come in pounded copper, chocolate marble or carved stone, and, in one room, a crystal chandelier hangs over a fully dressed table.
The new Asprey bills itself as a luxury emporium — with 15 product categories created by 40 designers, 15,000 stockkeeping units and price points that range from $90 for a teacup and saucer set to $2 million for an emerald or ruby ring. In addition to selling jewelry, ready-to-wear, accessories and home furnishings, the store supplies stationery, offers a book-binding service and sells hunting rifles and rare books — anyone up for a $4,800 first-edition, gilt-decorated copy of “The Scarlet Letter”?
There is also a selection of vintage pieces on display such as a tortoise shell grooming kit, opera glasses with ivory handles and evening bags as delicate as butterfly wings.
Asprey has maintained its space in its upper floors for some 40 craftsmen, who will create or customize anything in the store, including silver, jewelry, leather and watches. The workshops were one of the first things to impress Stroll and Chou when they bought Asprey and Garrard in July 2000. In their view, the on-site craftsmen helped make Asprey one of the world’s quintessential luxury stores.
“In the Twenties and Thirties, people used Asprey to find something special, whether it was cheap or expensive,” said Brozzetti, adding that he also has resurrected the once-famous Asprey catalogue, the last edition of which was published in 1938, before paper became too expensive. The new book will feature some 1,200 products from the Asprey line and go to clients worldwide.
The next Asprey flagship will be in Tokyo, Brozzetti said. The company plans to open a suite in the city’s Ginza district in the fall. That will be followed by a series of trunk shows and the opening of Asprey’s first shop-in-shops in Japan.
As reported in February, thanks to the investment by Morgan Stanley Capital, A&G Group has been able to raise the bar with regard to its rollout plans. Asprey now plans to open 18 to 20 stores, instead of just 10, by 2007, while Garrard will be able to open 10, rather than five, by that time.