Megastore Backlash: Designer Units Strive For Cozier, Local Style

Gone are the days when luxury brands raced to open mega-flagships. Now, they’re bringing novel themes to retail design to burnish their images.

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Besides the installation, screenings, dance recitals and readings have taken place at the flagship, turning it into a stage for cultural events as well as a retail outlet.

Other designers are turning to exclusivity, rather than design concept, to differentiate themselves. “What’s becoming even more important is the idea of regionalized stores with regionalized merchandise,” said Dana Telsey, senior managing director at Bear Stearns.

“Many luxury consumers are global consumers, and they want the Tod’s store in Milan to be different than the Tod’s store in New York and want to see different merchandise. It allows for more product to be sold at full price and for more efficient sell-through. That’s really key. We think it’s the next step in luxury branding.”

Many luxury firms are creating exclusive products to be carried in specific stores as well as adding one-of-a-kind features to different flagships. Burberry is offering a made-to-order trenchcoat service in New York and London, and its 57th Street flagship even has a tea bar; McQueen is planning to sell couture-like pieces in its Meatpacking District boutique come fall, and Miuccia Prada designed a line of spring bags exclusively for her SoHo store. Meanwhile, such designers as Paul Smith have perennially tweaked their stores worldwide to ensure they have differentiated products, from unique toys or art works to a certain color of knitwear or shirt.

Trey Laird sees neighborhood multibrand specialty stores — and the familiarity they cultivate — as retail’s next step. “I feel like that is going to have a huge resurgence,” he said. “It’s a backlash against the huge-chain-store mentality that everything is exactly the same all over the world. There was a time when I think that gave you a sense of comfort…and there will be again, but that’s not what we’re seeing right now.”

The idea of offering comfort with uniformity, he said, has evolved into creating environments consumers will find compelling for their individuality. “I think people want more, and I think they want an interesting and unique shopping experience,” Laird continued, “whether they are buying Donna Karan or Adidas — or even groceries.”
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