The owners of Printemps are turning the Paris landmark on Boulevard Haussmann into a luxury department store to tap the wallets of super-rich tourists.
Mosaics, sculptures and ornamental ironwork, which decorate the art deco store in the heart of the bustling district, are being painstakingly restored.
The €150m ($230m, £119m) project, which will take four years, is part of a plan to transform the graceful but dowdy building into a store to rival the world’s best.
Paolo de Cesare, president of the Printemps group, has in mind Harrods and Selfridges in London, New York’s Neiman Marcus and Isetan in Tokyo.
Unlike Bon Marché, the smaller but arguably more exclusive Paris department store, Printemps intends to cash in on the tourists who frequent Boulevard Haussmann, where the Galeries Lafayette department store is also situated.
On an average day 60,000 people visit Printemps, and 100,000 on Saturdays. Of last year’s €550m total sales, 20 per cent were to tourists. Russians were the top foreign customers, overtaking the Japanese; visitors from China were third. Those three countries accounted for 36 per cent of the store’s international sales in 2007.
Printemps has introduced a concierge service, 10 personal shoppers and a Maybach luxury car to drive important customers and their shopping to hotels.
Inside, the concessions are upgrading their boutiques. Although the emphasis is on high fashion – Balenciaga, Missoni, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen – there are still some affordable brands. But mass-market labels, such as Zara and Mango, have given way to Zadig & Voltaire and Comptoir des Cotonniers.
In an echo of the early 1900s, when the store’s director built a great hall and central staircase, the interior will be opened up. Mr de Cesare, a former Procter & Gamble executive, says the idea is to make “luxury accessible”. He points to an exposed-looking De Beers concession in the middle of the jewellery department.
The store literature promises “a temple of fashion” but one that is “a less intimidating version of the Avenue Montaigne”, the swanky thoroughfare where Dior, Chanel and Valentino reside.
The renovation is part of an ambitious plan by Maurizio Borletti, chief executive of the Borletti group. In 2006 he and RREEF, a property investment arm of Deutsche Bank, paid €1.1bn to acquire the chain of 17 department stores from PPR, the retail group formerly known as Pinault-Printemps-Redoute.
Mr Borletti wants a large network of premium stores. “A pan-European network makes sense,” he says. “Local players are relatively small and when they become bigger, they usually cover a wide range of prices. So consolidation and segmentation is needed.”
He recently bought Italy’s La Rinascente retail group (a chain originally founded by his family) and last month was part of a consortium that bought a 49 per cent stake in an investment company that owns most of the German department stores operated by Karstadt.
“There is scope for a pan-European platform for brands, so there is room for a European-wide retail network to showcase brands,” he said. With a strong foothold in Italy, Germany and France, Mr Borletti is well positioned to achieve his ambition. But as the Printemps restoration indicates, he knows it will take time.
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