Gucci has unveiled a 3,500-square foot-store in downtown Detroit, showcasing the men’s and women’s ready-to-wear and accessories, jewelry, watches and Gucci Decor collections. It is one of the first global luxury brands to set up shop in downtown Detroit.
But the city has had a relationship with Gucci for several years. The brand named Detroit as its focus city for the Gucci North America Changemakers program in 2019, having found an alignment with it and its iconic culture. It has also established relationships with Detroit-based nonprofits and supported students from institutions such as Cass Tech High School, a public high school in the center of the city.
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In 2019, Gucci commissioned Jenn Nkiru’s “Black to Techno” — a documentary that celebrated techno as a homegrown Detroit art form. It also launched a capsule collection alongside Tommey Walker, a young entrepreneur and visionary behind Detroit Vs. Everybody.
Courtesy of Gucci
“Over the past few years we’ve had the chance to connect much more deeply with the city and the people of Detroit, having visited there many times,” said Susan Chokachi, president and chief executive officer of Gucci Americas. She noted that in 2019, Gucci hosted its annual store directors’ meeting there.
“At that time, we were just really excited about the energy and the creativity and the innovation of the city. Of course, we were captivated by its incredible history and the culture there. We talk about the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and the home to the rise of Motown and techno; there are so many exciting things about the city. We were also coming into close contact with these incredibly talented and innovative artists and designers and entrepreneurs who were really channeling the energy and the spirit of the city into what was a kind of exciting feeling of progress and possibility for Detroit,” she said.
Spending time there, Gucci executives realized how dynamic Detroit has become.
“There were a lot of people who were investing downtown, and we just felt a strong desire to be a part of the revitalization of the city,” Chokachi said. Considering that was back in 2019, she added, “You can imagine how much more meaningful that is even now after the disruption of the past few years of the pandemic.” She said so many cities across America have suffered “and the idea of being able to be back in downtown Detroit with one of the first global luxury brands to have a presence there for us is an exciting possibility.”
Asked why they chose the location at 1274 Library Street for the store, she said, “We were really excited and inspired by a location that felt very historic and very meaningful to the downtown landscape and architecture. We found that in the Library Street location we selected. It’s inside the historic L.B. King & Co. building [built in 1910]. It’s a beautiful historic building. That really felt good to us. There was an opportunity for us to be a part of this timeless character of this downtown city area. The building is beautiful in a more playful way. The building’s architecture today has a signature green element to it. For us, it’s an iconic color for Gucci. The Gucci green facade immediately spoke to us. It’s a building that has so much character and really reflects the history of the city.”
Courtesy of Gucci
According to Chokachi, the store is different from any other Gucci unit in the world, blending the architecture of Library Street with Gucci’s Italian heritage. The boutique features restored glass tiles and geometric metalwork on the facade that is carried throughout the interior. Custom patterned monochrome floors mirror the geometric paneling from the facade, producing decorative three-dimensional effects, integrating with the shape of the cylindrical light fixtures. As part of Gucci’s commitment to implement and enhance eco-friendly initiatives and energy-efficient technologies in its stores, the new store is LEED-certified and features LED lighting.
Compared to others in the fleet, Chokachi said, “It’s a good-size store. It’s sizable enough to give us the full representation of the brand, and can incorporate all those categories. It’s exciting to be able to show the full offer in a new city and new market like this. It’s the perfect size for downtown Detroit.”
In discussing what she projects will be bestsellers, Chokachi said, “I think we have a huge opportunity with menswear. It’s a sports town. It’s a natural for us to develop great relationships with the athletic community. Equally, it’s a creative community. Alessandro’s creativity resonates a lot in this market,” she said, referring to Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director. “We’ve seen that in the relationships that we’ve built in Somerset [mall in Troy, Michigan], and the people we’ve started to connect with. Equally, the men’s and women’s worlds are going to find an exciting customer base in the city of Detroit.”
She noted that the Somerset store does very well “and obviously is the reason why we’re looking for an expansion there and second point of distribution and to fully express the men’s story as conceived by Alessandro and we really felt we needed a dedicated men’s presence there.”
Asked if she feels there’s a strong Gucci customer in downtown Detroit, she said, “Absolutely. I think there’s such a creative energy that’s going through the city right now and it attracts so many people from different places. There’s a lot of development happening downtown so we’re really excited about what that represents in terms of talent we can find in the market. We’ve done quite an important search for people who can really express the creativity and the unique characteristics of the brand within the context of the downtown Detroit culture and connecting with the artists and the creative community, but also clients and people whom we want to build relationships with there. We think there’s a really exciting prospect for developing great relationships and great client relationships in the city.”
Since Gucci resonates with people across ages and demographics, Chokachi said they seek to connect with the youth in key cities through their Changemakers programs and their nonprofit partners. They also have a scholarship fund that looks to create more paths for people who interested in entering the fashion industry.
In 2019, Gucci held a day of programming at Cass Tech High School. “They’ve been really inspiring to us for what Gucci can mean to a community like Detroit when we get more involved there. Three of the Cass Tech students have been recipients of the Gucci Changemakers Scholarship Fund, and have gone on to college,” she said. She and her colleagues have maintained relationships with the students. “It’s just a way to get to know the city on a much deeper level,” she said.
Courtesy of Gucci
Chokachi said she had no trouble finding workers for the Detroit store, and the recruiting went smoothly. “Across the board the industry is experiencing some challenges when it comes to talent. When you go into a market like downtown Detroit, and you want to match the creativity of the brand with the creativity of the people who are living in that city, fireworks start to go off. One of the most exciting opportunities for recruiting is to allow for us to engage with people who are interested in what the brand is representing, both creatively and also from an influence perspective. A lot of what we’ve done to build relationships and to put roots down in the city has often been quite intriguing to the people that we’ve been talking to about being part of the Gucci story there.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020 Detroit’s median household income was $32,498, less than half of the U.S. median household income of $67,521.
Chokachi said when Gucci decides to open a store in a city, they will look at all the relevant data points “but we have good client relationships that already exist in the market, we are also able to study our digital business to see where we have clients in the Midwest area,” she said. “We always look at things that could be good indicators. But we have a strong sense of the market and its potential for having been present for many years, decades in fact. Seeing this flood of activity and development downtown, it’s something we just wanted to be a part of and we think will contribute to a strong business and strong development of relationships and contribution to the revitalization of the downtown metro area.”
To celebrate the opening of the new boutique and Detroit Month of Design, Gucci will launch the second chapter of its collaboration with Tommey Walker and Detroit Vs. Everybody. The new iteration highlights custom Detroit Vs. Everybody patches featured on Gucci’s Off the Grid collection. The Off the Grid line, created in 2020, was created to support the house’s vision for circular production that uses recycled, organic, bio-based and sustainably sourced materials. The collection will include a baseball hat, backpack and belt bag, all to be sold exclusively at the new Detroit store beginning in September.
To honor Gucci’s new permanent home in the city, Gucci Changemakers commissioned critically acclaimed poet and native Detroiter Jessica Care Moore to write an original poem reflective of the brand’s mission within the city of Detroit. A stanza of the poem will be handpainted on the facade of the Siren Hotel for the community to enjoy: “The spirit of a fashion city is felt/As soon as she walks in./The spark lives inside the patterned faces/of her community.”
In addition, as part of Detroit Month of Design and in partnership with 2020 Changemakers grantee Design Core, Gucci will spotlight the Changemakers scholars and Design Core designers with a multimedia exhibition at MOCAD in early September.
Courtesy of Gucci
Detroit Month of Design, which takes place Sept. 1 to Sept. 30, throughout the city and online, features a combination of virtual, outdoor and indoor experiences. Key program elements include exhibitions, installations, product launches, lectures, panel discussions, tours and workshops.
Having opened in the city, Chokachi believes other luxury brands will be setting up shops there as well.
Tracy Reese, founder and creative director of Detroit-based Hope for Flowers and a native Detroiter, said, “I think there’s definitely a market for Gucci here. People here love luxury goods, and for the past 20 years they had no choice but to go to the suburbs to shop for luxury. There haven’t been stores in downtown Detroit that carry that merchandise. I’m excited for this.”
Reese explained that small boutiques have opened in downtown Detroit “which I definitely love and support and champion.”
“Small boutiques are leading the charge and bring great retail experiences to the city,” said Reese. She noted that Detroit is the New Black had to close its store in April. “She was ahead of the curve and showcased designer merchandise. It’s difficult being first,” she said. Eugenie is a fantastic store that buys only sustainable and ethical brands and Reese is honored to be carried there, while McMullen, which has a “fantastic store” in Oakland, California, is opening a multibrand pop-up in downtown Detroit next month.
“Gucci has been very intentional about entering Detroit, they’re not just here as a retailer, but they’re here to support the community and have been real supportive of young creatives,” said Reese. She introduced Antoine Phillips, Gucci’s vice president of brand and culture engagement, to her high school, Cass Tech, and the brand has launched several other initiatives in the city.
According to Chokachi, “A lot of development is happening in downtown Detroit. Like many other cities, the city is still recovering from the last couple of years. Detroit overall has been a city that has struggled through time of hardship but has always shown this incredibly fierce determination and resilience and innovation to continuously move forward. That’s the momentum that we’re feeling and that very much has inspired this moment for us to join this revitalization of downtown Detroit.”
By the end of August, all the Gucci stores will have the possibility to transact in crypto currency. It has a partnership with Bitpay, a bitcoin payment service provider, which is done through the digital wallet.
Looking ahead, Chokachi said several more Gucci stores will open in the U.S. within the next year. “There’s an exciting market opportunity right now. The luxury landscape in America has really gone through a dynamic period of expansion and growth,” she said. Following an opening in Austin, Texas, in March and having moved locations within Crystals in Las Vegas, Gucci will open a new store in the Wynn in Las Vegas in November. The brand is also adding a second floor to its Bal Harbour, Florida, shop at the end of October. Gucci plans to move locations in Palm Beach next year, and will open a store in Aspen next year as well. In Somerset Collection in Troy, it will be opening a dedicated men’s shop and will open a dedicated men’s shop (a second location) in Scottsdale. In early 2023, Gucci will unveil a new store in the Meatpacking District in New York.
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