In Berlin, Spiral Staircase and Star Architect herald a new era for Stately Store
This week, the great lady of Berlin shopping changed her skirt. Thursday evening, the venerable KaDeWe department store celebrated the opening of spaces renovated for six years.
The department store, opened in 1907, is an institution in the German capital. With 700,000 square feet of floor space, KaDeWe – short for Kaufhaus des Westens, or “department store in the west” – is also mainland Europe’s largest department store. It is considered the German equal of Galeries Lafayette in Paris or Harrods in London.
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Since 2015, KaDeWe has been the subject of what local media have described as “one-of-a-kind” renovations. This week, the department store unveiled 150,000 square feet of the redesign, including new men’s clothing, womenswear and beauty departments. The latter has high ceilings of 100 feet.
The construction works were supervised by the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his company, OMA. According to Koolhaas’ plans, the department store would be roughly divided into four areas, each with a sculptural staircase.
During the opening celebrations, more than 40 models wearing luxury brands including Prada, Balenciaga and Gucci used the first staircase – a spiral elevator, open to the top – as a runway, parading in front of a crowd of around 350. guests, including local politicians and celebrities.
“By the end of November, around 80% of the renovations will be completed,” confirmed André Maeder, CEO of the KaDeWe group, which also owns other German luxury department stores, the Alsterhaus in Hamburg and the Oberpollinger in Munich. The KaDeWe group itself is owned by the central Thai group, which owns 50.1%, and the Austrian group Signa, which owns 49.9%.
“Over the past six years, the owners have spent around 600 million euros to renovate the three stores,” Maeder told WWD. “Because they obviously believe in themselves.”
Over the next few years, the KaDeWe Group will add two more stores to its list: one of 107,000 square feet in Düsseldorf in 2023 and another of 183,000 square feet in Vienna in 2024.
Still, it may seem like a strange time to believe in this kind of shopping. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic put additional pressure on retail, high-end department stores appeared to be in danger of extinction with financial problems affecting notable brands like Barneys New York, JC Penney and Neiman Marcus. In the last 18 months of the health crisis, similar UK retailers Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols have all announced layoffs, Debenhams declared bankruptcy and in France, Galeries Lafayette admitted to having financial difficulties.
Maeder, who is also the current chairman of the Intercontinental Group of Department Stores, the largest alliance of its kind in the world, has no such concerns. He told WWD that he was certain the new KaDeWe look would thrive.
Before the pandemic, the KaDeWe attracted a lot of tourists and the customers were about half international and half local. But, as Maeder said, “the past two years have shown that we have a very strong foundation in our local community. We love tourists, we need tourists, but we don’t depend on them.
Another factor that will make KaDeWe fashion floors more attractive are changes in fashion shopping policies in department stores. Maeder noted that over the past five years or so, along with the renovations, they’ve also made a lot of changes to their list of buyers.
More effort has gone into finding directional and new brands, and Maeder has called Barneys New York the model for the ‘cool’ luxury retail that he loves. In other interviews, he said he believes it is the mid-size department stores that are most at risk.
“Of course, at the end of the day we have to make the money,” he told WWD. “We need big brands like Hugo Boss or Tommy Hilfiger. But we are also becoming more diverse. It’s not 50-50, but we’re looking for more brands that we think could be very hot in the market, whether it’s a sneaker or an entire line.
New fashion departments will showcase a lot more of these kinds of brands, although if they don’t sell successfully they will likely only be at KaDeWe for one or two seasons.
Pop-ups within KaDeWe are another way to spice up the retail mix, Maeder said, adding that the store takes pop-ups “very seriously” and will continue to do so.
Additionally, Maeder believes that while they all act as separate entities and many shoppers don’t even realize they’re connected, the three luxury department stores together form a stronger concept. The Munich and Hamburg sites have also been redeveloped and will open refurbished food halls in 2023.
“When you travel from city to city, there are chain stores everywhere and you always see the same names. I think people are a little fed up with it, ”Maeder said, explaining why he thinks the unique identities of the three stores are important. He believes that the fact that KaDeWe and its counterparts in Munich and Hamburg also have famous household goods, toys and food departments in addition to clothing is also something that will inspire consumers to come.
The new sophisticated spiral escalator from KaDeWe is one of them. In fact, you could say it’s almost a throwback to the days of the first department stores, combining cafes and clothes and other merchandise, and for the first time making shopping a hobby. At the time, department stores were described as “cathedrals of consumption”.
Maeder, whose ultimate goal is more than a billion euros in turnover next year, believes that is still relevant. “Look, we always say we don’t sell you anything you need,” he concluded. “Instead, we want people to come and experience, have fun, touch, smell, eat and drink, and then buy some of the merchandise.”