Bruno Magli is coming to America

Bruno Magli is looking to regain its status on U.S. shores with new stores, a line of women's apparel, and a plan to modernize a classic label for younger, affluent shoppers.

The luxury label, perhaps best known for the shoes that were a key piece of evidence in the OJ Simpson trial, was acquired in January by Marquee Brands (which also owns the Ben Sherman brand). And now the company, which specializes in licensing and development, is set to open it first North American location in Miami next year with two additional locations planned in Las Vegas and New York.

                   Rendering of new Bruno Magli store design

The goal is reach both local and international shoppers and develop a lifestyle brand, albeit one deeply rooted in its Italian heritage.

FierceRetail spoke with Cory Baker, COO of Marquee Brands, about Bruno Magli's past and future plans as a U.S. retailer.

FierceRetail: Why retail and why now? What makes the time right for Bruno Magli?

Cory Baker: When you're dealing with brands that are in a better, or luxury space, in the market, there's almost a gallery experience that customers want to have. They're walking in and they're exploring, even before they're ready to buy. Sometimes people need time to actually build up to the ultimate acquisition of that luxury item, and visiting it from time to time, admiring it, is part of that experience. You can do it online, but there's something very different about picking up a piece of fine leather and saying, 'This is something that I'm prepared to invest in, this is an article that I intend to have for years.'

I think retail is an important piece in telling that story.

FierceRetail: There are stores planned for Miami, New York and Las Vegas. Those all have a very high percentage of international shoppers. What's the strategy there?

Cory Baker: This is a global brand, it has been throughout its history. There are certain continents that have been more focused on than others, but from our perspective at Marquee Brands, we invest in brands that we believe have an opportunity to grow. Not just domestically, but certainly across the planet. Miami is an incredible place for brands today, specifically luxury brands. It's a gateway into Latin America, it's a fashion capital, it's a cultural capital. To be able to start there and really benefit from the cross-section of not only the American consumer, but the Latin American consumer, and start to expand into other cities [with] international customers, that's an important part of the strategy.

Certainly, as we look to have wholesale distribution and [product in] better department stores, and because there's such strong loyalty across [luxury brands] in the U.S., we will continue to feed that and open additional stores. But the strategy is really focused on the initial retail footprint to ensure that not only are we positioning ourselves to sell to American consumers, but we're telling our story to the traveler as well.

FierceRetail: Are the plans to do something to appeal to the U.S. shopper specifically?

Our plan is to ensure that there's an experience. Certainly a domestic-based store is going to engage a local customer. Yes, we'll have travelers that are coming in and passing through, but generally speaking, when we create this experience, we create events, we create opportunities for our customers to really engage with the product and to understand what it means when something is handcrafted. To understand what it means when there's a burnished leather and how it came to look and feel that way. Those are the type of educational, experiential moments that we want to create within our retail environment, moments that will be really focused on speaking to the local consumer that is within a drive of that store, as opposed to someone who might just be passing through as part of travel.

FierceRetail: Are you planning to leverage new experiential interactive technology in your stores? How will you make this a more modern environment for a classic brand?

Cory Baker: Marrying those two together is an ongoing challenge, not only for brands in general, but I think for luxury in particular. Because part of what consumers are drawn to in luxury is the classic nature of what is represented, that it has been around for a while. Look at brands like Fendi and Chanel. While modernized, they speak to new generations with both design and fabrication and assortment. There is that balance that you have to walk to really balance the classic and the modern. Burberry has done a phenomenal job over the years of creating a strong digital presence and still being a classic British brand.

As we look at doing that ourselves, we're not looking to turn this entire store interactive, where you're swiping your way through windows to find an assortment. But we do want to create an environment where, before you come to the store, there's a digital experience. There's an opportunity to use augmented reality. Technology should be something that makes sense for the consumer and isn't intimidating to the point where they feel uncomfortable with [something] in a brand they've been shopping for 30 years. That we're pushing them to try new technology that they otherwise wouldn't want, need or use.

That's the challenge, and certainly, there's no shortage of new technology offerings that are being presented to us almost monthly.

FierceRetail: What about plans to attract a younger shopper to expand your customer base? How will that be manifested in this effort?

Cory Baker: Well, a lot of that happens in the marketing and communication. It's very much about how you position the brand. It's about the creative direction put into the campaigns and photo shoots. It's about ensuring that social media creates a conversation, and not just an arena to stand on a luxury podium and dictate to your customer the mantra of the brand. It should be an experience. If you're a 29 or 30-year-old who has approached a point in life where you're investing more in luxury and in personal experiences in apparel and lifestyle, there's an expectation that you have a voice in what works for you, a voice in the style.

There's more of a communication between the customer and the brand over style and over what we deliver, and I think that's an important aspect of it.

For many years, luxury was something with an ivory tower communication relationship, where brands for the most part would create a style and pass it down. Customers would buy it, because that's what the luxury gods spoke. But today, there is much more communication, there's a much more bespoke aspect to luxury. People are truly customizing experiences, and if we do that and we commit to it in an organic way, then we'll be speaking directly to a younger consumer.

There are few brands today that truly have an organic ability to expand into other lifestyle products without having the customer scratch their head. When we look at some of the contemporary peers of Bruno Magli today—like a Ferragamo, or a Prada, or a Gucci—that have evolved over the last decade and a half into a lifestyle offering of Italian luxury, Bruno Magli clearly has a platform to offer that at about 30 percent below the Ferragamo price point.

What we've experienced and what retailers have told us and what consumers have responded to, is that's a real sweet spot for them. It's the difference between indulging yourself in a high priced product, versus investing in luxury. That's really the messaging we need to build on today. We will be expanding the brand into multiple product categories across various geographic territories, and respecting the price point where customers feel that they're investing in luxury and getting a value proposition for that.