“Here all you need to do is wrap the landscape around you.”
The great Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto was undoubtedly right in expressing how the human experience of Venice is inexorably dictated by the achingly physical beauty that surrounds every visitor to this famed city.
But DFS simply could not afford to adopt that adage as it set about arguably the greatest challenge in its 56-year history, that of transforming the 800-year-old Fondaco dei Tedeschi into a stunning fusion of commerce and culture.
Yes, it was taking possession of a building of such grandeur, such significance, that one might think it could not fail. But that view would be wrong. Many citizens of Venice, in fact, increasingly worried by the impact of mass tourism were deeply concerned that a building they considered sacrosanct might be turned into something crassly commercial by a multi-national retailer focused on financial return.
DFS was aware of the perception and the danger. But from the start its ambitions were set much higher. “We’ve become the guardian of something close to people’s hearts,” says Chairman & CEO Philippe Schaus, a neat summing up of both the immense responsibility and the extreme excitement of the retailer’s role in giving rebirth to a city’s ancient and loved landmark.
“It’s a multiple responsibility,” says Schaus, talking to The Moodie Davitt Report yesterday, just before last night’s extraordinary Grand Opening event for T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS. “Firstly, it’s the architectural responsibility to make sure that what we do in the building is consistent with its history.
“Then we had a responsibility on the retail side to create something which adds value to Venice and elevates the profile of the city. We wanted to add a dimension to the city so that people who are in Venice can stay longer, and don’t need to go to Milan or Rome for shopping.
“Our third responsibility was to bring a level of service to the building which customers of DFS are used to. That was a very big responsibility. We had to think very hard about our recruitment strategy. We created 500 jobs, more than 400 of them in this building. The question was, how should we do this? Do we go to other retailers and hire people away, or do we try to train them from scratch? And that [the latter] is what we did.
“We brought young MBA graduates from Italy to Hong Kong and Singapore to train them; we also brought our training team from Asia here. Over half of the 400 people working in this building had no work experience before. We trained them right from the beginning to have the right approach to retail. We have an incredible, friendly and energetic bunch of young, clever individuals.”
Schaus believes the opening is a watershed in the company’s proud history. “DFS is transforming the Fondaco, but the Fondaco is also transforming DFS,” he says. “We are learning a lot from this project… I think there will be a transfer back of expertise and ideas to Asia, so this is enriching our fabric in many ways.”
Schaus says the development sends out an important signal about the future of DFS – and hopefully to the travel retail sector. “We hope that people understand that travel retail is not just about price and maximum margins and maximum rents with minimal investments. It will be increasingly about creating unique experiences – like we’ve done, for example, at Changi Singapore and here.
“I don’t think this industry is going to be successful in the long term if it just goes towards getting as much as possible from an operator, and from an operator side simply getting your costs down as much as possible so that you can pay this incredibly high rent. At the end of the day, nobody puts any value into the industry that way.”
“Venice is encrusted with imagination. Its stones creak beneath an impressive pile of apparitions. There isn’t another place in the world that could bear all that vision tonnage on its shoulders.”–Tiziano Scarpa, Venice is a Fish
Schaus describes the project as “A new global benchmark in the world of luxury department stores”. But, in so many ways, this astonishing project is far more than that.
As the citizens of Venice (and streams of tourists) step inside T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS on Saturday when it opens for business, they will enter a magical world of history and heritage, tastes and traditions. They will encounter a heady cocktail of top international brands and the best that Venice and Italy have to offer. DFS is no stranger to quality retailing but even by its own demanding standards this is something different. “We are awestruck by what we have done here,” noted one of the retailer’s leading creative influences.
The much-used, much-abused concept of Sense of Place is embraced here with passion and certainty. “When you go into the Food & Gift World it’s all locally sourced product,” comments DFS Group President Merchandising and Marketing Sibylle Scherer. “We work with local artisans and small companies and have given them a great window to the world. There’s a very rich artistic community here, but it’s been swamped by cheap imports and copies. We are supporting the local community.”
[We’ll bring you the full interview with Schaus, Scherer and DFS President Europe and Middle East Eléonore de Boysson in a special edition of The Moodie Davitt e-Zine, out early next month.]
A new cultural triangle?
“Venice – That single word seems to send an exaltation exploding in the soul”
–Guy de Maupassant
The ambition, scale and quality of the project was clear to see for all guests at a stunning Grand Opening last night to celebrate one of the most critical initiatives in DFS’s 56-year history. The development represents not only the retailer’s first foray into continental Europe, but also a cultural emphasis that DFS sees as increasingly important to its future.
Certainly the link was pivotal to the development of T Galleria Angkor, which opened in the historic Cambodian town of Siem Reap earlier this year. And the Venetian and Cambodian pair could turn into a cultural triangle courtesy of the famous La Samaritaine on rue de Rivoli, Paris. There DFS parent Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) last year won official approval of building works required for building’s renovation. As reported, DFS is playing an important consultancy and advisory role to the €460 million project, which involves a hugely ambitious transformation of the 80,000sq m complex.
For now, though, all eyes are on T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS, which the retailer says pays homage to 1,000 years of art, culture and commerce in Venice. The 13th century building is one of Venice’s most illustrious landmarks, once famed as a centre of commerce between East and West. T Fondaco dei Tedeschi offers a carefully curated collection of luxury products from Italian and international brands across 7,000sq m of retail space, embracing fashion & accessories, watches & jewellery, wines & spirits and beauty & fragrances, alongside an outstanding array of locally handcrafted artisan products and premium food.
But it’s not just about commerce. DFS intends the store to act as a new cultural hub for the city of Venice, promoting events and exhibitions that complement the city’s annual calendar of activities. DFS claims to have created a “one-stop lifestyle department store unlike any in Europe”.
The new store, just a few steps away from the city’s famous Rialto Bridge and within walking distance of St Mark’s Square, occupies one of the city’s most venerated buildings. The historic Fondaco dei Tedeschi began its existence as a place of exchange for northern merchants and was used for centuries to trade spices, silk and other goods between the Orient and Europe.
Its renovation – and return to its trading roots – was entrusted to the eminent architect and urbanist Rem Koolhaas who, with his architectural firm OMA, meticulously restored and transformed it into a grand trading emporium on four storeys. Inside, a sumptuous interior design by architect Jamie Fobert celebrates the traditional elements, textures and shapes of Venice in a bridging of heritage and modernity.
On the ground floor level, originally a medieval courtyard, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi presents the Gucci and Bottega Veneta concept boutiques on the Grand Canal plus a range of Italian fashion accessories and jewellery. In addition, a premium assortment of food, wine and gifts celebrates local craftsmanship and the Italian zest for life.
The ground floor atrium is home to AMO, an elegant Venetian café/restaurant developed by world-famous interior designer Philippe Starck in partnership with Italy’s most revered culinary family. The menu – created by the Alajmo brothers Massimiliano, the youngest chef in the world to have received three Michelin stars, and Raffaele, maître des lieux of all the Alajmo family restaurants – features simple, modern twists on classic Italian cuisine in a space designed to create a sense of conviviality.
The first floor, accessed by a rich red-hued escalator designed by OMA, features women’s fashion, jewellery and accessories brands including Bulgari, Damiani, Fendi, Lanvin, Max Mara, Tiffany & Co, Valentino and many others. The second floor introduces Venice’s only multibrand luxury watch area, with a large offering of brands such as Cartier, Hublot, Omega and Panerai. It also features a selection of men’s fashion and accessories brands including Brioni, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Moncler, Ermenegildo Zegna and many more.
The third floor houses Venice’s most exclusive designer women’s shoe salon and largest offering of beauty and fragrance products. Customers can gaze out through the arching arcades that line the floor’s inner terrazzo corridor. Featured brands on this floor include Aquazzura, René Caovilla, Jimmy Choo and Giuseppe Zanotti in the ornate shoe salon, and a large array of Italian and international beauty brands including Acqua di Parma, Dior, Estée Lauder, Lancôme and The Merchant of Venice.
Above the retail space, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi features an entire floor dedicated to events and exhibitions, which will be open to the public. This combination of vibrant meeting place and cultural venue for Venetian residents and travellers alike opens onto a rooftop terrace with a breathtaking panoramic view of Venice, reaching from the Grand Canal to the Venetian Lagoon and beyond to the peaks of the nearby Italian Alps.
It’s a heady mix. DFS has taken the words of Zanzotto and added to them. Thrillingly, it has not only wrapped the Fondaco landscape around its consumer offer, but imbued this majestic old building with a unique additional character that combines both ancient and modern, local and international. The Fondaco dei Tedeschi may be reborn. But one suspects that DFS is, too.
THE BUILDING – A SUPERSTRUCTURE LIKE NO OTHER
A FUSION OF INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL
TT Fondaco dei Tedeschi’s cultural awakening
The addition of a fourth floor to the Fondaco’s existing structure was a critical piece in DFS’s mission to make the store much more than just another shopping destination.
Here the retailer plans to forge a new connection between commerce and culture in a stunning new event space for Venice. In partnership with local artists and cultural institutions, a series of exhibitions, talks, concerts and screenings will be held within the ‘Event Pavilion’ for the general public.
The space was designed so that it will be flooded with natural light, thanks to a clear glass ceiling. A continuous flow of cultural events and exhibitions will display a variety of visual arts, fashion and design showcases, giving international and local visitors the opportunity to discover and reconnect with the Venetian and Italian way of life.
“This will transform the Fondaco into a new and original venue for arts and culture in Venice,” DFS pledges.
The inaugural exhibit, which will run from the store’s October opening until mid-January 2017, presents a visceral exhibition by one of Italy’s most highly regarded artists. Called ‘Under Water’, the site-specific project was created by Fabrizio Plessi, who looked at the historical connections between East and West that were made through relationships forged in Venice.
It was in Venice that Plessi was first inspired to become an artist, and it is where he conceived over his lifetime the pieces that would define his oeuvre.With ‘Under Water’, Plessi has created a unique way to honour Venice, its heritage and the opening of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS. Using 60 flat screens placed along the golden brass walls that edge the Event Pavilion, the artist shows repeated images of antique mosaic fragments that have been submerged in water.
As the water moves above and around the mosaic fragments, the images undulate and ripple, thereby transforming the fixed nature of the mosaic into something unexpectedly fluid and dynamic. Water is one of the most characteristic features of the artist’s body of work. For Plessi it has come to represent the flow of thought and memory.