MILAN — Burberry has shown its Prorsum collection here for the last four years, but only now does the British brand have its own retail space in Italy’s fashion capital.
Today, Burberry opens the door of its newest flagship, a sprawling space of more than 8,300 square feet in Via Verri, which crosses Via Montepoleone. Although Burberry has been selling in Italy for years through a hodgepodge of independent retailers, the flagship is clearly a watershed for the brand.
“If you came here and wanted to buy Burberry, you didn’t know where to go,” said chief executive Rose Marie Bravo in an exclusive interview at the three-floor store on Saturday.
That’s no longer a problem.
The gargantuan store is a one-stop shop for all things Burberry, including the women’s and men’s London and Prorsum collections, home furnishings, a bespoke men’s suit area and a customized trenchcoat service. The flagship also carries a wide range of scarves and leather goods and is the first store in the world to carry the brand’s new line of candy pink checked accessories.
“It strikes us that Italians will appreciate the longevity of this brand,” Bravo said.
Bailey said the brand’s first Italian store was a rather “personal project” for him. His grandmother was Italian and Bailey splits his time between Milan and London. His new showroom will be located on the top floor of the flagship.
“There are so many similarities between Italy as a country and Burberry as a company,” he said. “They both have a big respect for heritage. There is a traditional part of both cultures. They are both very aesthetic and very design-oriented.”
Burberry turned to architects Virgile & Stone to rework traditionally British materials into a clean, contemporary interior. Hues for the walls and display cases tend toward the neutral in tones like amber and bone. Floors are made of Welsh slate or oak. The minimalist decor is peppered with British country touches like leather couches, tartan throws and fur-covered pillows. Things are kept simple, which complements this season’s neon assortment of bright trenches and colorful knits.
“We wanted the store to be something individual and exclusive to Milan,” said Bailey, who added that Burberry wanted a modern store with a connection to the past. “We wanted everything to have a history to it.”
Its history in outerwear is a focal point of the store and Burberry is hoping to leverage that expertise to win over Italians with made-to-measure raincoats. The ceiling of the hallway leading to the “Art of the Trench” area is lined with television screens broadcasting images of falling raindrops and swaying tree branches.
Men’s wear plays a prominent role in the store, which fits in with Burberry’s objective to reach out to one of the label’s core customers. Bravo said she and her team initially focused on women’s wear to tap into the lucrative accessories market, but “now we are ready to position men’s wear more importantly.”
Italy, and Milan more specifically, could prove fertile ground for doing just that, according to Stan Tucker, vice president for men’s wear worldwide.
“[Italian men] are the best dressers in the world because they care about the way they dress,” he said. “They may buy only one suit but it will be impeccable.”
Bravo said Italians’ sense of style and appreciation for quality materials helped guide the company to reposition the brand and its subsequent relaunch.
“There was a class we saw here that gave us an inspiration,” she said. “It is our impression that [Italian consumers] are among the most sophisticated.”
Indeed, their reverence for English style makes Italy Burberry’s second-biggest market in Continental Europe after Spain. Burberry doesn’t break out sales figures on a country-by-country basis. On a consolidated level, the men’s, women’s and accessories businesses each generate about a third of the brand’s overall revenue, which totaled $943.4 million, or 593.6 million pounds, for the year ended March 31.
Burberry estimates the Milan store will do in excess of $1,100, or 1,000 euros, in sales per square foot “sometime in the near future,” a spokeswoman said. Other stores in Italy are a possibility down the road, but Bravo said it all depends on location and whether Burberry can secure a return on its investment.
“We’re a profit-oriented company,” she said.
She would not give specific financial forecasts for the group but she did indicate that macroeconomic conditions are improving.
Having a flagship in such a major luxury goods market is a critical step for the brand’s image. Distribution through small, third-party retailers was fine to start off with but it was not the best long-term solution for the brand, said Merrill Lynch analyst Antoine Colonna.
“This is a big step forward for them,” he said. “The bottom line is that they are starting with a much more visible concept.”
It also is a big step for Italy. The Burberry store opening comes amid an internationalization of the Milan’s downtown shopping center, currently dominated by a bevy of Italian labels and many fewer French brands.
That’s changing and fast. Brooks Brothers and Jimmy Choo are slated to open doors here in the coming months and Polo Ralph Lauren plans to open its first Italian store in Milan next year.
In the meantime, cheap and chic H&M will shake up a very different, but still formidable, chunk of the market when it opens the doors of its first Italian store here later this month, following on the heels of Zara’s Milan opening last year.