By Miles Socha
PARIS — There’s nowhere to hide in the arresting fishbowl of a boutique John Galliano opened here last week —except, of course, the spacious bathroom, which is already generating buzz for its lavishly embroidered wall panels.
“That’s very, very interesting that the girlies would start gossiping about the ladies’ room,” the designer said with a laugh. “We like that.”
To be sure, curiosity has been at a zenith for months about Galliano’s first retail outpost in the world, which comes almost 20 years after the acclaimed British designer launched his own label.
“High tech romance” is how Galliano describes the triangular, 1,700-square-foot store on Rue Saint Honoré, which juxtaposes gleaming silver with ancient stone and plasma-screen televisions with elaborate Belle Epoque mouldings.
“The clothes have waited to be shown like this for a long time,” Galliano told WWD during an exclusive preview of the store. “We are all super excited.”
And perhaps no one more so than Galliano president Valerie Hermann, who gleefully reported that more than 20 items, from trenchcoats and evening gowns to lingerie sets, sold on the first day it opened, without any announcement or fanfare.
Not that the boutique is discreet.
The entirety of its contents — from the bias-cut dresses suspended on a rail descending from the ceiling to the silver mannequins in voluminous black trenchcoats perched on the mezzanine – is visible from the street, stopping pedestrians in their tracks. Even the plasma screens, stretching the length of the two-story atrium, blasts a video remix of Galliano’s greatest runway hits until midnight daily.
Hermann said the long-term plan is to open similar boutiques in major cities, including London, Tokyo and New York, but she set no timelines. In-store boutiques, including ones in Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Bergdorf Goodman in New York, will be made over to the new design concept.
Even though the store bowed less than five weeks before Galliano will present his debut men’s wear line and a couture collection for Christian Dior in rapid succession, the designer oversaw every detail, from the wooden hangers engraved with his logo to the unusual fragrance wafting from candles. He concocted the scent with Dyptique to distill the essence of Galliano.
The store aims to do that as well, with silver mannequins oozing fashion attitude and fitting rooms equipped with gentle, flattering light and sensual croc-stamped leather on the floors. “You’re very gently looked after here,” Galliano said. “It’s a brand new concept and this is our flagship.”
The designer collaborated with renowned French architect Jean Michel Vilmotte to overhaul a space that boasts a rich history. During the French Revolution, Robespierre is said to have lived in the attic of the building, at 384 Rue Saint Honoré. Slipping out one evening, Robespierre made it only as far as 400 Rue Saint Honoré before he was arrested by police and, ultimately, guillotined.
More recently, the space was the shop and atelier of Beresford, a blouse firm that served the likes of Grace Kelly, and later the outlet for Italian sportswear retailer Caractere.
For Galliano and Hermann, the shop is a major statement about how far they’ve come in defining the Galliano brand, especially since 1996, when the designer took up the reins at Dior.
“When I went to Dior, there were already codes to spin off and evolve, whereas we had to sit down and decide what the codes were and what John Galliano would stand for for the next 100 years,” the designer said. “I think it’s going to be a great learning process for us. We’ll get incredible feedback, and I think it’s going to be a growing experience for this company.”
Sales at John Galliano totaled $29.7 million last year, according to the annual report of its parent company, Christian Dior SA. Hermann and Galliano declined to reveal sales projections for the new flagship. However, the 6,500-square-foot Kenzo boutique that recently opened in Rue de Rivoli is expected to have first-year sales of $11 million, indicating the Galliano store should do slightly less than $10 million annually. Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange rates.
Hermann said Galliano sales are currently growing at about 25 percent per year and she expects the double-digit momentum to keep up for the foreseeable future. She added that the company has been profitable for the past five years. “I think we still have market share to gain,” she said. “[John] has great potential to take share in the feminine, luxurious market, because no one does it better.”
Ready-to-wear, sold in about 175 doors worldwide, still accounts for about 80 percent of the Galliano business, but the last four years have seen the designer expand into handbags and small leather goods, footwear and, more recently, eyewear and lingerie.
Next up: Galliano’s hotly anticipated men’s collection, slated to be unveiled on June 27 during men’s fashion week here. Pressed for details about the collection, the designer demurred, describing it as a “soft launch” rather than a runway blowout. But he promised “very selective” distribution, the same quality and finishing as his women’s collection and “perfect tailoring.”
Galliano’s big project after that will be a signature fragrance, but he and Hermann declined to set a time frame for the launch, stressing that quality is more important than speed in developing a designer brand over the long term.
In the meantime, the Paris boutique is bound to raise Galliano’s profile even more, and open the consumer’s eyes to the breadth of his product offering. Hermann said it was important to be able to offer affordable items, like sunglasses and lingerie, to more fantastic pieces like sari-style chiffon dresses decorated with gold coins. Retail prices range from about $175 for sunglasses up to about $3,500 for evening dresses. Shoes run from about $210 for pumps up to about $1,200 for embroidered knee-high boots.
Everything is packaged in boxes and tissue decorated with the designer’s now-famous Galliano Gazette newsprint, with a fabric flower tied on the rubber-band handle of every shopping bag.
“It’s the first time we can express ourselves from A to Z,” Hermann said. “We are known for our chiffon dresses, of course, but we want people to know we also have suits for working women and things for young girls, like a camisole she can put with jeans.”
Indeed, Galliano even interpreted some of his greatest hits in black — the “pirate” jacket, kilt skirt and bias-cut dress — and displayed them on the main floor as a visual crash course to his fit, styling and attitude. “I felt that it was a nice way to introduce new clients to Galliano. It’s all about the cut and the styling. I’m all about the leather coat with the floral chiffon dress,” he said.
Scanning the outfits lining the wall, he prescribed the leather jacket and lingerie-style slipdress to a Kate Moss type and the cropped military jacket over a lace and chiffon column to a woman of Stella Tennant’s ilk. Then he plucked a delicately shirred camisole from the rack and declared, “Something like that with jeans would be heaven.”
The store opened with a mix of pre-collection and runway looks, but Galliano is eager to introduce new items every two weeks to keep the store looking “fresh and appealing.” Clothes are hung sparsely to give them a proper showcase.
Hermann is planning some newspaper advertising this month to announce the opening of the Paris store. Also, Galliano said he plans to fete the story during couture week in Paris, but on a small scale, hosting a dinner elsewhere and then taking editors and retailers on a personally guided tour.
Transparent as the store is, he doesn’t want anyone to miss all the small details. “I think it’ll be more meaningful to show it this way,” he said. “At those big opening bashes, you never see the clothes — or the store.”
PHOTOS BY STEPHANE FEUGERE