NEW YORK — Montblanc has inked a deal for one of Manhattan’s chicest retail locations — the northwest corner of Madison Avenue and 57th Street — where it will open its largest store, WWD has learned.

This story first appeared in the March 4, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Montblanc will take 5,200 square feet across three floors, with 2,500 square feet for retail, probably all on the main level. Generally, Montblanc stores are about 700 square feet, but very productive.

Karsten Martens, president and chief executive officer of Montblanc North America, said the company signed a 10-year lease on the site, which is in the heart of Manhattan’s luxury district. He plans to open the flagship in the fall, and explained that the company needs bigger stores to accommodate its expanding product range. Montblanc, a division of the 97-year-old Swiss-based Compagnie Financiere Richemont luxury conglomerate, designs, manufactures and retails expensive writing instruments, leather goods, watches, jewelry, eyewear and fragrances.

“Montblanc is growing in the luxury market, something many brands cannot claim during these difficult times,” Martens said. “The core product is still writing instruments, but our biggest growth is coming from men’s jewelry, leather goods and watches.”

Montblanc’s existing 500-square-foot unit on Madison between 57th and 58th Streets will close when the flagship opens. Sales per square foot reportedly exceed $4,000, or about $2 million overall. Montblanc hopes to triple that volume, to $6 million, in the new flagship, which is currently vacant and formerly housed a bank. Martens declined to comment on sales.

A number of years ago, the company was mostly wholesale-oriented, but it has recently focused on streamlining to better wholesale accounts and beefing up its own retail. In the past 18 months, Martens said, Montblanc pulled its merchandise out of more than 50 percent of the doors where its products were sold in the U.S., but still wholesales to 67 doors, including Tourneau, Bailey Banks & Biddle and Fortunoff’s.

On the retail front, 21 Montblanc stores in North America opened in 2001 and none were opened in 2002. Currently, there are 42 freestanding stores owned by the company, with another seven franchised and 52 shop-in-shops. Aside from the flagship, no other stores are planned for this year.

Ironically, Richemont, which boasts such brands as Cartier, Dunhill and Piaget, penned the Manhattan flagship deal with one of its prime competitors, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which holds the master lease for the building, said to run for about 50 years. LVMH is seeking another luxury retailer for the same building. Furla, the Italian handbag and accessories firm, is under consideration, according to sources.

LVMH once considered expanding its Christian Dior store on 57th Street to the corner, but decided to leave Dior alone.

Montblanc’s largest store is currently in Paris on the Champs-Elysées and has 1,700 square feet of retail space. The 57th Street unit will reflect the Paris design by having an open, loft-like contemporary environment with “soothing blue tones” accented by a classic natural-wood setting and matte silver detailing. It’s a departure from Montblanc’s current black, white and gold boutique design. Jean-Michel Wilmotte will design the new space. The main entrance will be on 57th Street, just east of Dior, but there will be frontage wrapping around the corner, giving Montblanc maximum exposure on both 57th Street and Madison Avenue.

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