Luxury's Surprise Showing
Since I have had the luxury (no pun intended) of being in Paris a few days before the start of Maison & Objet tomorrow, let me get you into the mood of the city that never disappoints.
My observations may surprise you. Many of you must wonder what economic climate you will encounter when you get here in the midst of the Euro crisis and all the suspense and hand wringing we have witnessed at home over the ever shifting hopes and subsequent let-downs of a permanent solution for the Euro, which yet remains out of reach.
Let me put it this way: Paris couldn't care less and goes on about its life and business as it always has, only more so. And I am not talking about maintaining "a stiff upper lip" in times of adversity but the kind of positive attitude you would least expect. Hotels, stores and restaurants are filled with customers. My hotel concierge tells me that in his 30 years as a hotel manager he has never seen a better year.
The always fashionable Cafe Flor and Deux Magots on the Bld. St. Germain don't have enough tables and chairs to accommodate those wanting to get their daily fix of the best people watching in town. The Longchamp handbag department at Galeries Lafayette had a line out the door the last two days requiring crowd control ropes and stanchions. And, no, there were no discounts.
And that's just the small stuff. Meanwhile, both Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps, the two leading department stores, are locked in a blitzkrieg of multi-million dollar renovations and expansions, especially of the luxury space. GL has begun to spend over $100 million it earmarked for major renovations and expansions over the next three years, with a total of close to a $1 billion planned in spending through completion in 2017.
This September, the store begins its transformation with the opening in its Boulevard Haussmann flagship of "The Luxe Laboratory," a multi-brand contemporary fashion platform in which the most sought-after designers, both established and newcomers, will be featured in a Parisian luxury apartment environment.
The space for couture brands will be doubled as will be the space dedicated to luxury accessories, leather goods and fine jewelry replacing apparel on the first floor to expand accessories beyond the established boutiques on the main floor.
In time, the GL food hall will be moved across the street into Galeries Lafayette Maison to create a lifestyle emporium housing a supermarket, restaurants and home products.
Never to be outdone in the luxury space, Louis Vuitton has thrown down the gauntlet to compete with some of the oldest and best known fine jewelers - Cartier, Chaumet, Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels among them - when it opened a separate two-story fine jewelry store of its own right in their midst on the storied crescent shaped Place Vendome across from the Ritz Hotel.
To make sure its message comes across loud and clear that it is serious about the fine jewelry business, the boutique carries no other LV products. However, it comes with its own workshop and in its windows features a 9 million Euro diamond in a sign that the luxury purveyor understands and intends to exploit the difference in return for fine jewelry and luxury watches when compared to its leather goods, which produce no shabby margins of their own.
There are many more signs of luxury on the march that I will get to during the show. If you ask me what this all means in the age of "austerity," to be honest, I am at a loss for words or an answer - but one thing seems clear: those who are investing in luxury must know something about the future that our politicians and financial analysts don't.