All that glitters: the rise and rise of luxury (in Bondi Junction)

All that glitters: the rise and rise of luxury (in Bondi Junction)

The luxury shopping market is worth $2.1 billion annually in Australia. And it has arrived in our neighbourhood, writes Elizabeth Meryment

It’s a Saturday afternoon at Westfield Bondi Junction and the Louis Vuitton shop is getting busy. A young mother with her hair scraped into a ponytail is collecting three huge parcels of shopping, beautifully packaged in Louis Vuitton’s signature tan and blue bags. A trio of men in their 20s, all designer threads, fresh white sneakers and perfectly manscaped whiskers, are prowling the shoe shelves choosing yet more sneakers. Women in headscarves vie for space alongside Asian tourists, families, husbands buying for wives, women buying for themselves, teens giggling at the price tags, and security guards in black suits and headpieces who are keeping a watchful eye over the millions of dollars of goods laid out before us.

Across the way, in front of the Gucci store, a queue has formed. Nightclub ropes have been set up in front of a set of huge gilded doors that lead into rooms decorated in a velvety shade of pink, like the inside of a music box, and lined with exquisite, wearable objets d’art. Another security guard is holding the hordes at bay. The shoppers granted access take their time; those on the outside wait patiently.

This is the Eastern Suburbs’ new luxury precinct, a carefully curated ultra luxe section of Westfield Bondi Junction dedicated to housing, in one location, the world’s most high profile and exclusive brands. It’s a smorgasbord of the finest European and American fashion and jewellery houses. In the one corner is Saint Laurent, a breathtaking 1980s-inspired retail palace (store seems too pedestrian a word) fitted out in gold and marble, with huge mirrors that refract the light streaming in from the enormous plate windows. In another corner is Italian high-fashion powerhouse Prada; beside it, the glorious red-velvet rooms belonging to French shoe emporium Christian Louboutin. Then there’s Chanel, Tiffany & Co, Dior Beauty, Australia’s first Tory Burch store, Max Mara, Omega and cult Spanish high-fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo. 

“The philosophy behind the precinct was to bring these brands together in one place,” says Westfield Bondi Junction centre manager Justine Saunders. “Brands that complement each other but retail differently.”

The collection of stores make the Bondi Junction precinct one of the most exclusive suburban luxury precincts in Australia, something Saunders says her customers demanded.

“We are very customer focused and where the luxury precinct has come from is meeting the needs of the very affluent, very well-travelled customer in the Bondi Junction area, as well as those beyond the Bondi Junction area,” she says. “It’s a suburban approach to exclusivity. Bondi customers travel, they experience the best of the best when they travel and they expect to be able to have that at home. And people here have a disposable income and can afford these brands.”

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The installation of the luxury precinct at Bondi Junction is not surprising when considered in the context of the boom of luxury retail in Australia and around the world. The luxury market is now worth $2.1 billion annually in Australia, and according to IBISWorld research, has grown at a rate of more than 10 per cent per year since 2013. 

“Australia is relatively unsaturated when it comes to international luxury brands, which is why luxury retailers recognise Australia as a crucial market where they need a significant presence,” says Westfield Bondi Junction brand experience manager Kristi Grose. “Westfield Bondi Junction is the perfect centre to house such an amazing calibre of luxury retailers.”

According to an international luxury survey released by global management investment group Bain & Company in November, the luxury market is set to continue its relentless boom.

“The overall luxury market — encompassing both luxury goods and experiences — grew by 5 per cent at constant exchange rates in 2018 to an estimated €1.2 trillion ($A1.8 trillion) globally, with overall positive performance across all segments,” Bain & Company’s report reads. “Personal luxury goods outperformed the market, posting 6 per cent growth at constant exchange rates to reach €260 billion, affirming the ongoing era of a ‘new normal’. Looking ahead, this positive growth trend is expected to continue in the range of 3 to 5 per cent per year through 2025 — a result of favourable market fundamentals — to reach €320-365 billion.”

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It’s an extraordinary growth pattern led by a handful of powerhouse international brands including Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada, often considered the leaders in the global luxury market. Gucci is the standout performer, with staggering growth rates and revenue. In 2018, Gucci had international revenue of €8.29 billion, a 33.4 per cent rise compared with 2017, with little sign in the trend abating. The 2015 ascendancy of designer Alessandro Michele to creative directorship of Gucci — a company founded in Florence in 1921 as a rather more modest leather-goods producer — has been one of the world’s most extraordinary success stories.

For those raised in times of austerity or anyone struggling with mortgage and childcare payments, the rise and rise of the luxury market may seem baffling. Dropping $850 on a pair of Gucci sneakers, even with their trademark red and green stripe and gold embossed wasp, may seem bizarre. Yet it seems plenty of shoppers are prepared to pay. And not just at Gucci. A walk through the Westfield luxury precinct turns up plenty of prices to amaze. There are racks of $5000 jackets, walls of $3000 handbags, shelves of $1800 pairs of shoes and tables of $1200 purses. Some may wonder who buys these goods and why.

Experts say that an increasing portion of the luxury market is dominated by Millennials, for whom consumerism is the norm and living via social media is a way of life.

“Millennials feel better about their future earnings than older consumers and spend more on luxury goods,” reported Bloomberg in October. “Gucci and Louis Vuitton are Millennials’ favourite brands … (and) while the intent to buy online is higher in the age group than among older consumers, physical stores continue to feature highly among preferred places to shop.”

For the high-end brands, moving into a location such as Westfield Bondi Junction is about retaining a strong retail presence in an era of booming online shopping. Each of the stores in the Westfield luxury precinct is meticulously designed, appointed and finished — the idea being to accentuate a hands-on retail experience that cannot be emulated online.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the attention to detail that goes into these stores,” says Saunders. “Every single detail has been considered, from the materials, the fixtures, the layout and the lighting. These brands know their customers and know their customers have particular requirements. They make their stores as beautiful as their products.”

It is true that there is something remarkable and special about each of the luxury outlets. From the Gucci store with its vintage oriental rugs artfully layered for a textured effect, velvet walls and marble floors, to the gorgeously lit rooms of Tory Burch, with their hardwood floors, oversized sofas and high-end American design sensibility, the atmosphere in each is unique, eclectic and, yes, luxurious.

It is also easy to fall in love with the extraordinary beauty and craftsmanship of the goods on offer, from Louboutin’s signature red-soled shoes to Max Mara’s exquisitely crafted pieces. You could certainly lose hours here as well as the bulk of your pay packet in the heady atmosphere of sumptuous luxury. 

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Saunders says the luxury precinct has been enthusiastically embraced by a range of shoppers including those who also use the centre’s valet parking and “hands-free” service (where purchases are delivered directly to a shopper’s vehicle). She adds that the Bondi Junction retailers often stock one-off or limited-edition pieces not available at other stores and also offer exclusive stock with tie-ins to season launches and activations.

“Our luxury retailers are constantly pushing the boundaries with their season launches, exclusive products and the way in which they always offer unparalleled customer service,” she says. “The way the product, the environment and the customer service work together help in creating a seamless experience that our customers crave.”

She added that the high-end zone complemented the centre’s other options ranging from Australian designers including Zimmermann, camilla and marc and Viktoria & Woods, and NSW exclusive stores including Bec & Bridge, Rag & Bone and the newly opened LEGO store.

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