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Kirna Zabête at 20, a rare luxury boutique success story

By Jackie Mallon

24 Sept 2019

Retail |INTERVIEW

Luxury multi-brand boutique, Kirna Zabête just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and invited guests to their Broome Street flagship to sip champagne and Aperol Spritz while shopping the latest Fall/Winter collections and listening to a playlist by Harley Viera Newton.

Elsewhere in luxury retail, the mood is not so celebratory. After August’s bankruptcy filing, Barneys New York has until October 24 to find a buyer in order to avoid liquidation. In December 2017, Parisian boutique, Colette, noted for its esteemed curation of emerging and established brands, closed its doors after 20 years. Of that store, Karl Lagerfeld himself said, “They have invented a formula that you can’t copy easily, because there is only one Colette.” Now both Colette and Lagerfeld are gone.

Browns London, a similarly independent retailer founded in 1970 which brought British designers like John Galliano global attention and brought Comme des Garçons to the UK, recently announced a 2020 relocation from its original South Molton Street spot to the more desirable Brook Street close to Claridges Hotel. But Browns was acquired in 2015 by online luxury marketplace Farfetch, which was also rumored to have expressed interest in Barneys. After Farfetch’s IPO NYSE debut last week its shares surged by over 50 percent prompting CEO, José Neves, to tell CNBC, “Online is growing at 25 percent a year, which represents over the next ten years a one hundred billion dollar-plus opportunity, and that is what we’re going for.” Together with matchesfashion.com and Net-a-Porter among others, luxury ecommerce platforms not only offer a vast array of global brands, but have established creative partnerships resulting in exclusive product drops.

So how do brick and mortar luxury boutiques not only reach the 20 year mark but grow beyond? Fashion United put this question to Kirna Zabête owner and founder, Beth Buccini.

The story of a luxury boutique’s longevity

“I honestly don’t know what the secret is,” she said. “I find it so hard to believe that it’s been 20 years, but I think you have to be relentless and you really have to know your customer and pay attention to what people are wearing on the street and what people really want to wear. I’ve always said from day one, and we’ve kept that mission, to have the best edit and the most important designers of today and tomorrow. So much of what I do is discovery. I love finding all these great new designers and building up these businesses but also having exceptional customer service.”

But with online platforms not only competing but buying up her brick and mortar competitors, there must be more to her strategy? Buccini suggests that the reason her business remains strong is simple: Location. " i opened in places that knew really well she says. kept clients as we gained and had one store soho for fourteen years then bought out a partner three new stores seventeen months. think understanding your customer having an ongoing conversation with them is absolutely crucial.

Buccini also believes it’s important not to underestimate the physical assurance of visiting a store for consumers with busy lives who perhaps don’t want to browse on screen, order, experience disappointment, and be obliged to return unwanted items. It’s a consideration that’s personal to her. “I’m about to go to Europe and do all the buying,” she explains, “but I also have four kids and live a very real life, and go to football games on the weekend and PTA meetings, and I know what it is that women need every day, in and out. I can understand what Beyonce needs and I can understand what a regular suburban mum needs. I think it’s important to have that touchstone of reality.”

Buccini now has four retail “touchstones”: Philadelphia, Soho, East Hamptons, and Palm Beach in Florida, and says she has no plans to export the Kirna Zabête retail experience overseas––but she’s not averse to taking on the Farfetches either.

“There’s definitely plenty of opportunity in the States. But what we’re working on is growing our e-commerce.”

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos Paul Evan and FashionUnited