Balmain's new digital flagship.

PARIS — Balmain is bolstering its digital reach with the launch of an online flagship serving customers in more than 100 markets in partnership with Yoox Net-a-porter Group.

Till now, in terms of its own online store, “the situation was quite poor,” acknowledged Balmain chief executive officer Massimo Piombini in an interview at the brand’s headquarters here. Everything was managed in-house “without any real technical expertise, and the possibilities to keep up with the upgrades of the digital business,” he said.

Harnessing “the latest technologies in the online business,” and integrating Balmain’s e-commerce and institutional web sites, the new site, he said, will boost visibility and sales, as well as serve as a powerful communication tool. Features include a click-and-collect service, editorial content including videos, and dedicated capsules.

Francesca Tranquilli, deputy president of the Online Flagship Stores division of YNAP, which is the world’s largest provider of e-commerce services to luxury brands in terms of scale, said the aim is to elevate the brand’s service to customers by making the site mobile friendly, for instance, and simplifying the journey to the checkout. “We are evolving them to a much more localized web site, adding more languages, currencies and payment methods,” she said.

Launched in 2006, with Marni as their first client, YNAP’s Online Flagship Stores division today works with more than 30 luxury brands including Valentino, Moncler, Armani and seven Kering-owned brands. For Tranquilli, who sees “untapped potential in certain markets,” the partnership will help boost sales at balmain.com, although she declined to share any targets.

Till now, balmain.com has generated around 3 to 4 percent of the brand’s total sales, according to Piombini, who is not expecting a sudden spike. Judging by the momentum of the brand’s growth, “Even if we keep the 3 or 4 percent, it’s going to be 3 or 4 percent of a much bigger number,” he said, adding that the plan is to triple the size of the business over the next three-to-four years. At the time of Balmain’s acquisition in 2016 by Mayhoola for Investments, the Qatar-based parent of Valentino and Pal Zileri, the company was “relatively small” in size, with revenues of around 130 million euros, he said.

For Piombini, the majority of online sales will continue to be generated through third-party platforms, “with 80 to 85 percent achieved through onliners.” In the first five wholesale customers of the company, two — Net-a-porter and Mytheresa.com — are onliners, he said. “Big volume, we’re talking maybe 20 to 25 percent of the total turnover of the company.”

The launch of the digital store comes alongside the controlled rollout of flagships in key cities and in the build-up to the opening of a landmark Paris flagship for the brand early next year on Rue Saint-Honoré, in a site currently occupied by Zara. The store, which measures around 7,500 square feet, will be designed by Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing, together with Paris Studio AMV.

Piombini described the stretch of the street where it will be located — going from the still-under-construction Chanel store to Louis Vuitton’s Place Vendôme flagship — as “probably one of the most important luxury shopping [areas] in the world.”

Regarding Balmain’s retail strategy, brick-and-mortar will still play an important part of the equation, “but probably not with the same number of stores as brands that started their development years ago,” he said, adding: “The most important question for the next years is how to engage with the new generation of customers.”

With 30 to 40 store openings planned for the next three to four years, the aim is to cap the number of flagships at around 50. Openings in the pipeline include Hong Kong in late August; Bal Harbour in Miami in September, likely timed with Art Basel Miami Beach; Las Vegas in mid-October, in a wing of Wynn Las Vegas, and Shin Kong Place in Beijing. Piombini described the latter as “the most difficult location in the world in terms of availability of space.”

Balmain is actively scouting locations in cities including Rome, London and various cities in Asia, where the brand has a small retail presence. Balmain’s top three markets today are the U.S., Italy and France, but following the recent launch of accessories, the plan is to ramp up growth in Asia, he said, adding that Eastern Europe is also “developing at a strong pace.”

The brand in January will also take over the atrium of the Printemps Haussmann women’s building with a pop-up store.

Following the launch of the My City of Lights virtual reality concept in the new Milan flagship in April, Balmain in each of its stores will be testing new concepts, including a Wonder Booth interactive fitting room in the Miami store.

Paris will be the only flagship with all of the brand’s categories presented in their full range, including likely some children’s wear.

In terms of other projects in the pipeline for the brand, which on Friday at its Paris flagship launched a charity capsule based on the Balmain sweatshirts worn by Beyoncé at Coachella in April, Piombini confirmed the documentary on Rousteing will be wrapped by the end of the year, with the details of the premiere yet to be confirmed.

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