Louis Vuitton's new mega flagship store in Sydney ups the ante for luxury shopping in Australasia.
If, like a growing number of discerning consumers, you have an insatiable appetite for luxury, you will be booking your first class tickets to Sydney the minute you've read this story. This Saturday, Louis Vuitton, the world's most famous luggage brand, will open its biggest store in this part of the world - a 1200sq m flagship "maison" on Sydney's George St. Here, Australasians will be able to see under one roof the widest collection of what Louis Vuitton has to offer and indulge in the luxury shopping experience the French label has built its reputation on.
As Time magazine once said, it was the French who "practically invented the notion of luxury in the 17th century, and in the 18th century, when Marie Antoinette took up residence in Versailles, and added her own twist to the genre". After conducting a survey on global luxury, the magazine concluded Europeans regard "luxury as a means of expressing their individuality and style while placing high authenticity and pedigree".
In this part of the world there is a growing echelon of affluent consumers who are proving just as discriminating and unique.
And though New Zealanders as a whole are generally patriotic when it comes to supporting our designers and producers, there is still a desire to buy international labels and to use luxury goods to express our own individuality.
"The last 10-15 years, 10 years in particular, has seen very strong growth in the luxury goods market in both Australia and New Zealand," explains Phil Corne, CEO of Louis Vuitton Oceania, down the phone from Sydney.
"While that is part of the globalisation of the world, it also reflects that the consumer is now very highly appreciative of brands that deliver real quality of product and real customer service. They appreciate companies that are creative and innovative in the way they produce, design and present their products to the market."
Though today, how we spend our "cake" is a little more reserved than it might have been in the 18th century, current reports show that internationally the luxury market has been left reasonably untouched by the economic troubles affecting markets around the world.
Indeed, in many markets luxury brands have shown an increase in profits.
"Sydney is a global city, and the Australian and New Zealand markets are significant for Louis Vuitton," continues Corne. "It's all relative, of course: the population [in Australia] is 22 million and New Zealand's is 4 million, so they're not major in terms of population, but the business that Louis Vuitton has in both markets is really well represented."
The Sydney store is the 13th maison in the Louis Vuitton empire - it has more than 460 stores internationally - and has been created by a central team of architects based in Paris which is responsible for the look of all the company's stores worldwide.
In this protected historical building, the team has worked carefully to capture what makes it unique and protect heritage features. On the ground floor, where you'll find leather goods and an impressive area dedicated to watches and jewellery, 6m-high ceilings soar generously overhead. A wide art deco staircase sweeps the shopper upstairs firstly to the men's section and on up to the light and airy women's area. A large void cuts between the top two floors, adding to the sense of space and sophistication.
"One of the rules that we stick to with the brand is that we will only present the product if the space that we have allows us to present it properly. We now have the space to show the depth and breadth of product Louis Vuitton has to offer, so it's very exciting. Our customers will see a much broader and deeper offer in all categories.
"It won't immediately change what is in store in New Zealand, but what it does create is the opportunity to have very readily available products that can be moved to New Zealand for specific customers.
"When you see this new store in George St you will understand that Louis Vuitton, while very much respecting the tradition of the brand which is more than 150 years of history, is really at the same time very forward looking in the way in which the brand is presented to the market.
"We are long overdue in this market to have a store of this scale."
In a world of mass-production and cheap knock-offs, as consumers are becoming more discerning and demanding.
Recognising this, the new Louis Vuitton store will also offer two new services - made-to-order shoes for men where the customer can choose from a variety of leathers and colour combinations, and a Haute Maroquinerie service which will allow women to personalise their handbags by choosing from a selection of iconic shapes, leathers, colours and finishes.
"People today are looking for individuality - through design or a monogram," says Corne. "It's just another level of detail in the luxury market that is highly appreciated by the consumer. The only other place in the world at the moment where these services are offered is in our Milan store."
The store opening coincides with Louis Vuitton's 25th anniversary in Australia; the event will also be celebrated by a limited selection from its L'Ame du Voyage jewellery collection being available only for the month of December.
For now, Corne is off to put the finishing touches to what is guaranteed to be one of Sydney's most impressive events of the year - a cocktail party in the store followed by another party nearby - taking place this Friday. VIPs will fly in from around the globe to join Sydney's A-list. Look out in Viva next week for photos of the event.