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TOKYO — Prada has another eye-catching Epicenter.

The luxury group last week opened a six-story, 28,000-square-foot flagship here that has a facade covered in hundreds of glass panels in a diamond-shaped grid. The store is located in Tokyo’s fashionable Aoyama shopping district and offers a new landmark in this sprawling city.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Prada terms the building another one of its “Epicenter” stores, the first of which opened in SoHo in New York in 2001. That store was designed by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, while the Tokyo store was designed by Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland, whose other commissions include the Tate Modern gallery in London.

The all-glass Tokyo store represents the company’s latest approach to the fashion and retail market, said Miuccia Prada in an exclusive interview, noting that it will provide a place to experiment with new ideas and products and for “interaction” between the store and its customers.

The new store is expected to have sales of $20.8 million or more in its first year, according to Prada executives. Patrizio Bertelli, Prada’s chief executive officer, said in an interview that the new building cost his company “approximately 10 billion yen,” or $83.3 million, including the land. This amount, Bertelli noted, represents the single largest post-World War II investment in Japan from Italy.

The Prada Aoyama store is the first building by Herzog & de Meuron in which “the structure, space and facade form a single unit,” the Basel-based architectural firm said, noting that every single visible part of the building is structure, space and facade all at the same time.

At night the building glows with green light, with merchandise and visitors on every floor visible from the outside through the rhomb-shaped glasses. Meanwhile, shoppers are able to look out the store’s windows at views across the city.

The new store features “projections” and “snorkels.” Specially developed projectors using eight different lenses and mathematical calculations show images on interior walls which, seen from the outside, give the visual impression that the wall is melting.

Each “snorkel” has a screen server and, at the touch of the screen, a viewer can obtain information on anything from Prada’s merchandise to the season’s materials and colors. Then there are “sound shower” sections where visitors can sit and become surrounded by soothing sounds of comfort created by certain wavelengths

The first floor features bags and other small leathergoods, while men’s wear is on the second floor and women’s is on the third. The fourth floor carries, among other lines, Prada’s footwear collection, while the fifth is for VIPs. The lower ground floor is devoted to Prada Sport.

“The first thing I was interested to do in the new shop was to shop for myself and buy my things from my collection for myself,” said Miuccia Prada.

The Tokyo Epicenter also will be able to show past Prada collections going back decades, including capes and handbags from the Eighties.

The sixth floor, Prada said, is an exhibition space that can be used for collaborative exhibitions and performances with people in fashion, music, the academic world and other fields. For instance, there will be an exhibition before Christmas of stage costumes designed by a Japanese artist and used in the “Madame Butterfly” opera in Italy in the Fifties, according to the company.

“There is no mystery except that when you like your work you want to do things as well as possible,” Miuccia Prada said in explaining her business philosophy.

Bertelli said that he’d wanted to build an Epicenter store in Tokyo for some time. The aim was to create an architecture “which combines a classic appearance and a contemporary spirit,” said Bertelli in explaining the concept of the new building.

“Japan has always been an important market for Prada,” he said, noting that Prada Japan accounts for 23 percent share of Prada’s global sales of about $1.8 billion.

Prada considers each Epicenter store as “a little company” within a big company. The goal with the Tokyo store, as with the store in New York, is for it to continually stimulate other stores within the group to share the ideas, experiences and information gained by this cutting-edge flagship.

Prada began to grow rapidly in 1998, Bertelli said, adding it was around that time that he concluded there was a new need to build stores that would fuse with the community instead of continuing to build shops to more conventional designs.

“Prada was the first to plan and design a new store, not from a commercial viewpoint, but from an architectural viewpoint,” he said. This involved collaboration between Prada and architects, Bertelli said, explaining that in the process, Prada did not force its conditions on the architects but rather adapted its thinking to the architects’ ideas.

Customers nowadays take strong interest in things electronic, Bertelli said, noting that there is a need to propose new merchandise in a way that will come closer to the computer and the Internet.

Asia — including Japan, South Korea and China — is the world’s large consumer market. “It is only natural that a business enterprise like Prada should think of investing in this region,” Bertelli said.

Asked to give his forecast of future growth of the Japanese market, the Prada executive said it is wrong to compare Japan’s present growth with its past records in the Seventies and Eighties. “There will be a change in the way of Japanese growth,” he said. “There may not be rapid growth, but there will be constant and stable growth.

“The future growth will depend on the young people,” added Bertelli, observing that young Japanese people travel more and know more about the global market.

Despite the ill effects from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 Prada’s sales grew in 2002 and continue to be strong in the U.S. in 2003, Bertelli said, noting he is confident that the company will be able to “catch up” despite the effect of the Iraqi war.

The Prada Group maintained an average annual growth rate of 6 percent worldwide from 1992 through 2002, said Bertelli, adding a growth of 10 percent is anticipated for the Japanese market in 2003.

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