PARIS — How do you win at the chess game known as retail real estate in Paris?
If you’re Pierre Hardy and you’re facing off against big brands with the prize being precious floor space, you invite the building owner to your headquarters for a one-on-one chat and present hand-drawn sketches of your dream flagship.
“The market is such that the second there’s a boutique available, it’s a race. The reality is there is not that much availability,” Hardy told WWD. “Especially with all the big brands, the big groups, who are interested in having more and more spaces.”
The personal approach worked. The independent shoe and accessory brand is now opening its doors on Rue Saint Honoré.
They are steps from Kering’s Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, as well as LVMH’s Dior Beauty. The new spot is a deliberate branching out for Hardy, who spent more than two years seeking the right spot on one of the city’s fashion and luxury arteries.
Hardy found the storefront in April and immediately aimed for an ambitious fashion week opening date for the 645-square-foot space.
His discreet Palais Royal store, which opened in 2004, remains. “It was the perfect brand expression at the time, but it is a very confidential, hidden space,” he said.
“If there’s an element of intimidation, I think it’s also motivating. We’re ready for this. The collection is ready, the brand is ready, the image of the brand is ready. Let’s get it and let’s be in the game. We’re ready to be on the frontline,” said chief executive officer Christopher Turnier of the prime Rue Saint Honoré location.
Hardy sketched the interiors himself. His original vision was as a theater, with shoes and handbags center stage. He skewed away from bold prints or patterns, sticking instead with neutral shades and linen curtains for a look he characterizes as “minimalist but quite warm.” Long metal banquettes are topped with cushions, to give the space a relaxed feel, while thick rugs cover reclaimed parquet flooring found in Tuscany.
Against the neutral background and under dramatic spotlights, the shoes and handbags are meant to be the story. Each season the script will change, and the space was designed in a way that furniture can move with several pedestal surfaces to showcase the product.
“I wanted to keep this feeling of roughness and neutrality that’s not intimidating,” he said. “We are on the street where all the luxury brands are and it isn’t that I don’t want to compete, but I want to play my own game and my own aesthetic.”
The latest collection is titled, “Liberté,” perhaps a subtle nod to his staying independent in a world of conglomerates. It’s a creative endeavor of its own.
“It’s beyond challenging,” said Hardy. Hardy is averse to obvious branding and eschews logos. “It means keeping my identity as strong as possible and not trying to do the same [as the big brands]. It’s my only weapon,” he jokes.
Of course, he moonlights at Hermès, where he designs the company’s shoes, jewelry and beauty lines.
He likens balancing the roles between starring in a superhero movie and then nurturing an indie festival film. For Hermès he dives deep into the archives and history of the 185-year-old house, while at Pierre Hardy he has a “very, very different attitude.” That’s evident in his energetic designs and fanciful touches including sculptural heels, bright colors and rainbow soles.
Not being owned by a conglomerate has given him more freedom under his own name. “It’s also a luxury [that] we are not forced to open three stores this year and four stores next year. The way we are growing is reasonable.”
The new boutique will grow the Pierre Hardy brand to three points of sale in Paris, following his stalwart Palais Royal boutique and newer outpost in Le Bon Marché. Customers are roughly 70 percent local buyers and 30 percent tourists. The more visible Rue Saint Honoré location should shake up that mix.
“There is a little bit of an acceleration mode for us,” said Turnier. Le Bon Marché was added only last year and the company put a new emphasis on e-commerce.
Hardy will also open his second boutique in Tokyo, in the Ginza 6 center, in the first quarter of 2024.
It’s part of a slow but steady growth strategy.
“To be consistent means not to be everywhere, all the time,” he said. “At this size, at this scale, every gesture means something for us.”
Sales are roughly 80 percent women’s product, with shoes as the category leader with 70 percent of sales versus 30 percent for handbags. The latter category is growing rapidly as a “very easy first purchase” and point of entry for new clients.
The boutique will quietly open Monday — no splashy fashion week party is planned — with more intimate, client-facing cocktail parties envisioned throughout the season.
“We have to be realistic about how we can use the space, because the whole point is to have a retail space that is really a communication tool,” added Turnier.