The Louis Vuitton VIP salon at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was an unexpected delight, while I advised and shopped vicariously through a friend this past Saturday. She’d arrived in Milan from Zurich, just for the day, committed to a new handbag to be plucked from the widest possible selection in this region of Europe. Props to her for boldness.
After Prada, Gucci, Ferragamo, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, Bottega Veneta, Tory Burch, and Louis Vuitton in and around Montenapoleone, we paused for a greasy mall-rat lunch of burgers and fries and then continued on to the Galleria.
There, beneath a century-old glass roof, secondary stores of Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Tod’s, and Versace supplement their offer in the Quadrilatero. This was the first and now historic setting of Louis Vuitton’s Milan presence, recently expanded north into a 3rd level.
Here lives the VIP salon.
Luxury brands are hastily rearranging their store footprints to add private areas and ‘living rooms’ in order to comfortably and intimately fête their clients—among not only flagships, but tier two boutiques as well. Equipped with the comforts of home, along with back-office facilities for beverage service, they offer a respite from what is now the chaos of many stores during any given weekend hour.
This a response both to ever fiercer market competition, where outside personal taste and preferences, differentiation and loyalty are built through the experience of shopping. Due also to product saturation and inflation of prices, consumers are looking for something beyond simple acquisition.
By now, luxury brands have not only entered mainstream awareness, but they have touched billions of consumers through accessible products like eyewear, fragrance, and cosmetics. What to do when you’re mixing so many types of buyers?
Privacy as an added element is nothing new to the upper echelons of fine jewelry, watches, and couture—but it is still a novelty for many when shopping for products that only cost a modest fortune.
My friend, SDA Bocconi MBA alumnus, and former president of the Luxury & Arts Club Pavlo Stroblja now works as the Team Manager at this boutique, and so it was an extra-special visit all around. Ghazala considered and eventually purchased a bag (which she visibly gasped over at first) in the plush setting of a Milanese flat. Pavlo coordinated the sale, flexed his brand knowledge, and played proud host.
And I earned credits from both, connecting buyer and seller over glasses of champagne, after a long day of browsing not-quite-right alternatives.
The VIP Salon at this store achieves a balance of separation and accessibility, through sliding pocket doors reminiscent of the latticed metal gates at Villa Necchi, which protect the main house from the glassed-in and vulnerable sun room.
Once inside, historic Vuitton advertisements are posted along the walls, and vintage examples of travel and beauty trunks are on display beneath plexiglass. Tasteful but anonymous furniture adorns the mostly beige and gold sitting area.
Nothing in this room is memorable. And yet the experience, at least for the uninitiated, was a novel layer atop the procurement of a new handbag. Whether looking to spend €50 or €5.000, trudging store to store in search of the right product is exhausting. Imagine what being invited into a calm room and offered refreshment does to the mind’s perception of a brand’s goodness or badness and overall favorability.
Of course it helped that Ghazala and I had already decided the Steamer tote was the right combination of size, price, modernity, and timelessness. Lately, Vuitton’s Nicholas Ghesquière has reimagined key shapes from the brand’s legacy, like the Steamer travel bag into the Steamer tote and wooden trunk into the Petit Malle clutch.
Not far from the Galleria, Cartier’s multi-level flagship store is filled with pocket rooms just off the main selling floor, where prospective clients discuss and inspect major investments. Now, the same can be enjoyed at Louis Vuitton, in even grander form.
It was neat to experience this service up close, as it reflects the trend toward blending hospitality and luxury goods in order to deliver a well-rounded experience. As mature markets see a slowing of tourist flows from growing parts of the world like China, more attention is being placed on local clientele. In Milan and elsewhere, that means a more robust human connection to take the purchase process beyond the simple act of buying.