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EIGHT-STORY WONDER

Gucci hits Ginza

by Martin Webb

Gucci’s new home in Tokyo is the first store built specifically to house the Italian superbrand. Last week, Gucci opened the doors of an eight-story glass-and-steel flagship store in Ginza.

Incorporating four floors of retail space, a cafe and a gallery, as well as 3,700 sq. meters of offices, the building is not only Gucci’s first architectural creation, it is also the first flagship to feature the house’s new subtler, more understated store design.

The fresh look fits in with a new direction for the ubiquitous brand, which celebrates its 85th anniversary this year. Since guru of glam Tom Ford quit as the brand’s chief designer in 2003, Gucci has been striving to build a new identity. Now, with Italian Frida Giannini (formerly an accessories designer for the house) having found her feet as creative director, it has settled into a less in-your-face take on Italian extravagance.

The interior of the flagship, Gucci’s 54th store in Japan and its 14th in Tokyo, was designed by Frida Giannini and American Bill Sofield, the man responsible for interpreting Ford’s sultry elegance in a silver and cocoa color scheme. For this store’s new look, Giannini asked Sofield for something lighter and warmer: The result is shelving and display units in light rosewood, mohair upholstery, and flooring in taupe marble as well as a thick-pile carpet. Most significantly, the shiny chrome of old has been replaced by brushed steel with gold highlights. “I feel that gold and its warm glow is very right for the current Gucci aesthetic,” said Giannini, sporting a slinky black dress at last Tuesday’s press preview.

“We wanted this to be the most luxurious Gucci store in the world,” Gucci CEO Mark Lee said, flanking Giannini at the same event. “From the materials to such small details as silk robes in the fitting rooms, monogrammed leather shoehorns, credit-card trays, and even specially made seats for dogs, so that customers can enjoy shopping with their canine companions.”

These sumptuous touches are matched by the store’s architecture. Designed by American architect James Carpenter, a specialist in glass, the exterior is created from two layers of glass panels — the inner one clear and the exterior one a prismatic bronze — that together give the facade a warm glow. At night the tower is illuminated by a light installation by artist Shozo Toyohisa, who also created the lighting design for the Mori Art Museum.

Made-to-order

The luxury fits in with the fast-growing superbrand’s development of its top-end lines. On the ground floor it has positioned its most luxurious handbags, made from calfskin, crocodile and ostrich leathers, as well as a made-to-order service, which is being resurrected with this Tokyo flagship. There is also a customer-order service for men’s suits, shirts and shoes on offer in the basement floor, which is devoted entirely to products for men.

The building also accommodates Gucci’s rapidly expanding lines of fine jewelry, watch and eyewear lines, which are displayed on each of its first four floors alongside the women’s pre^t-a-porter and eveningwear collections. Also placed at key points throughout the store are interactive touch-screen video panels on which customers can browse recent collections, ad campaigns and images from the house’s history.

On the fourth floor is a cafe operated by Transit, the trendy firm behind Tokyo’s first boutique hotel, Claska. In addition to Milanese coffees, it offers light meals that are a fusion between Italian and Japanese cuisine, such as Kobe-beef carpaccio, salads with Japanese vegetables and desserts made using seasonal fruits. The interior of the cafe features a gold-laminated mural with a stylized bamboo motif created by former Japan resident Nancy Lorenz. According to CEO Lee, “This casual dining zone gallows our customers to spend an entire day with us here in Ginza, without ever having to leave the store.”

The fifth floor houses office space, with the sixth home to a customer-service center that will refurbish damaged Gucci goods as well as acting as a concierge service to patrons visiting Tokyo from afar. Up on the sixth is the world’s first Gucci gallery, which currently displays a celebration of the brand’s 85th anniversary featuring iconic creations that have never made it out of the house archives before.

Star-studded party

The megastore’s arrival was feted last Thursday night with a star-studded party in Tokyo Bay. Among the 800 attendees, the guest of honor was Mary J. Blige, who after watching a runway presentation of Gucci’s 1960s-inspired Spring 2007 collection on the front row with artist Takashi Murakami, A Bathing Ape mogul Nigo and a host of other Japanese celebrities, performed on stage sporting a white and silver get-up and oversize Gucci shades.

The event featured a giveaway of over 1,000 iPods etched with the famed Gucci double-G logo and cocooned in a flashy silver leather case. They were loaded with a specially created promotional video and an exclusive playlist created by Giannini.

Also exclusive to the Ginza store is a collection of bags, leather goods and luggage in cotton canvas with dolphin and anchor prints taken from the Gucci archives. All of these items feature a small metal plaque bearing the words “Ginza 2006 Exclusive,” and those who make a purchase there receive a bronze shopping bag with the “Gucci Ginza” embossed on the side.

These exclusives and small touches such as scroll-like suede pads onto which bags are placed during the brand’s elaborate selling ritual indicate just how important a market Japan is to Gucci’s bottom line. Last year it generated $515 million — more than 22 percent of the $2 billion brand’s total sales.

As if to prove the point, last Friday morning more than 120 people lined up outside the store to be among the first to shop there, and the queue to get in snaked around almost an entire Ginza block for the best part of the following weekend.