While I tend not to focus on closures, this week’s news of Maria Luisa closing her multi-label designer boutique in Paris comes with quite a strong opinion on the future of retail. According to Maria Luisa Poumaillou, the future of retail is on the Internet and in department stores.
A little background. Maria Luisa was established in Paris back in 1988, long before Faubourg Saint Honoré became the designer destination it is today. The concept of the multi-label boutique has always remained the same – Maria Luisa introduces fresh young avant-garde designers to the market. She literally invests in the names she believes in without disposing of them the next season. A few names she’s put on the map include Margiela (since the second collection), Westwood, McQueen, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons and more recently Rick Owens, Nicolas Ghesquière and Christopher Kane, just to name a few. While those names might sound obvious to you now, at the time Maria Luisa brought them in, they were not. And so the famed Maria Luisa boutique became a destination for designers who were destined to shape fashion – and have, for the past two decades.
So why would someone with such a high profile boutique decide to close the doors? Well, her sentiment towards department store business may well be attributed to the fact that she also acts as fashion editor for Printemps department store, where she has a shop-in-shop boutique. She also intends to develop an e-boutique on thecorner.com and continue forward with her own private label.
While the news is disappointing, it has to make you stop and think about why Maria Luisa has chosen to close her doors – and will any other forward retailers follow? I used to LOVE scouring the racks of Kirna Zabete in New York to see young designers that I had never heard of. But today, it’s a very different retail climate. Fashion has become such a high profile industry in and of itself, that the average consumer knows who the new designers are before they set foot in a store, which takes away that element of excitement to “discover” a new label at the brick and mortar level. That of course gets into the conversation of making the retail environment enticing, which something like Fashion’s Night Out seems to be generating. Online retailers are fast to expose new talent in addition to generating buzz with magazine-like spreads. But what about those department stores? Are people really going back into department store shopping for hot new talent?
As an example, I did a little research to discover where “young designer” Jason Wu is selling these days. In New York alone, his collection is stocked in Kirna Zabete, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Paris? Colette. UK? Browns, Harrods and Selfridges. So it would appear as though a few select multi-label boutiques are going head to head with the department stores. Now let’s see where that leaves us. I mentioned that stores have to have a special kind of kick these days. Colette’s got limited editions, Dover Street Market in London is more like a platform for exposure and Corso Como in Milan is a one-of-a-kind gem. When you look at it that way, and see that the distribution channels for emerging talent have opened up to department stores, it kind of does make the multi-label boutique shopping experience obsolete. However, Maria Luisa’s eye has always put her in front of the rest, so I’m keen to see her next moves at Printemps and online.