PARIS — When Louis Vuitton surpassed 150 locations in the early Nineties, many people told Vuitton chief executive Yves Carcelle that the brand might have reached its saturation point.
This week, as the world’s biggest luxury brand crosses the 310-store threshold with openings in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills and a replacement unit on Avenue Montaigne here, Vuitton is defying convention again — and demonstrating its momentum despite a sluggish luxury market.
“The idea is to open 12 to 15 stores each year, and it seems totally reasonable,” Carcelle told WWD, noting that store number 311, in Monterrey, Mexico, opened to the public last week, welcoming more than 400 customers the first day. “We are opening in new markets, as well as new cities and new neighborhoods in existing markets.”
But given the size of Vuitton, with estimated sales of $3.2 billion, Carcelle acknowledged the growing need to create “new experiences” for the consumer, customizing each location to its customer base and surroundings.
For example, the 9,700-square-foot Roppongi store, which bowed last Friday, is Vuitton’s 47th location in Japan, but is unlike any other with its 40-foot-long handbag “bar” and late closing hours: almost midnight on weekends. “That changes completely what we call the selling ceremony,” Carcelle said. “Our Roppongi project is totally modern, a modern laboratory of new ideas. We have many of the same materials and symbols — the Damier check, the metal — but everything is twisted in a new direction, which makes it very, if I may say, cool.”
Bowing one year after Vuitton inaugurated its massive flagship in Omotesando, and 25 years after Vuitton arrived in Japan, the Roppongi store reflects its modern placement in a new commercial and residential district whose centerpiece is the 54-story Mori Tower.
Three architects were engaged to design the new store: Aurelio Clementi, Jun Aoki and Eric Carlson, co-director of the Louis Vuitton Architecture Department. Jun Aoki designed other Louis Vuitton stores, including Omotesando, the Matsuya store in Ginza and Sakae store in Nagoya in Japan.
The massive facade consists of 30,000 glass tubes, which interact with sunlight to create the effect of a pixilated screen. The play with light continues inside, with thousands of stainless steel rings lining the interior spaces, and fiber-optic lights shining up through stone floors.
A large central atrium resembles a dance floor, while luggage is showcased in a lounge atmosphere to echo the neighborhood’s proclivities.
“I have a special feeling for Roppongi since I spent my university life in this trendy town in the early Sixties,” said Kyojiro Hata, president of Louis Vuitton Japan Co., LVJ Group K.K. “People of the time longed for European culture through Roppongi. It has been [the center of] night entertainment in Japan.”
The neighborhood boasts wide sidewalks, green spaces, a contemporary art museum, bookstores, restaurants and meeting places. Carcelle likened the neighborhood to Beverly Hills. “Japan is the very important luxury market, and Roppongi Hills is the heart of new luxury life in Tokyo,” he said.
Elsewhere in Japan, which accounts for more than a third of Vuitton sales, Hata said the brand would expand and renovate existing stores, including its Ginza store on Namiki Dori Street, which is expected to occupy up to seven stories and reopen next year.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Carcelle was to host a luncheon Tuesday to introduce the press to its new 8,800-square-foot location at 22 Avenue Montaigne, a new LVMH building that also houses offices and a Dolce & Gabbana boutique. It replaces a Vuitton unit at 54 Avenue Montaigne, which was about half the size.
Considered a “global store,” one of 40 in the world, the new location houses all Vuitton product categories over two levels, with a special emphasis on women’s ready-to-wear, which gets prime space with views onto a garden. The previous Avenue Montaigne unit concentrated on leather goods and footwear.
Although only a short walk from the massive Vuitton flagship on the Champs-Elysées, itself slated for a major expansion, the Avenue Montaigne store is expected to cater to a “local clientele” who seek a more private, less bustling atmosphere to buy such items as clothing, jewelry and watches, Carcelle said.
Vuitton declined to disclose sales projections for either unit and said the LVMH group has not yet decided its intentions for the 54 Avenue Montaigne space.