For Kartell, a Burgeoning Retail Footprint Is Central to the Design Story

Kartell has relocated its Manhattan flagship from SoHo to Madison Avenue in the middle of the city’s interior design scene, as part of a larger initiative by the Luti family-owned firm to bolster its international retail footprint and better tell its brand story to a wider audience.

“We can count 10 openings this year, and we would like to do another 15 in the next two years in all the most important cities. So it’s a very, let’s say, challenging strategy,” Lorenza Luti, the marketing and retail director for the Milan, Italy-based Kartell, told WWD.

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“We chose to move from our original Greene Street location to a larger space with more spacious windows in the NoMad district, a neighborhood renowned for its focus on design,” Luti added. “This venue allows us to present a more comprehensive and immersive Kartell experience, offering our new idea of lifestyle to retail customers as well as architects and industry professionals.

“It’s a new beginning for Kartell in New York. Kartell was among the first interior design stores in the SoHo district. We had 20 years of a beautiful stay in SoHo, but Kartell and its collection is growing so we needed the change, and our core is retail. We love to speak directly to the end customer and we are growing our contract business with interior designers and architects,” typically in the hospitality sector.

Claudio Luti, kartell, Lorenza luti
Lorenza Luti

Situated at 152 Madison Avenue, on the northwest corner of 32nd Street, the 4,300-square-foot flagship, for shoppers and the trade, spans two floors of an historic 1920s building, has a mezzanine for offices, and a lower level for the contract business and other developing divisions. Since the ’70s, Kartell has grown beyond furniture into lighting — among the brand’s best-performing divisions — a bathroom division with Laufen started in 2014 including ceramics, faucets and accessories, and more recently, eyewear.

The new flagship, officially opening Thursday, has four tall windows on both sides of the store, which appealed to Luti. “We change the windows every two or three months, to make the stores really alive. Much of our sales are by impulse from passersby but also a lot of our products are accessibly priced so we have people coming in to buy as they would buy a dress.”

The flagship’s windows display some of Kartell’s iconic pieces such as the Louis Ghost chair by Philippe Starck, the Kabuki lamp by Ferruccio Laviani, and the Componibili storage unit by Luti’s late grandmother Anna Castelli Ferrieri, considered a pioneer in post-war modern Italian design. The windows showcase a lifestyle arrangement of furnishings as well.

An 8-by-15-foot screen for videos helps explain Kartell’s approach to creativity, sustainability, technology and innovation. “It’s very important to tell the story of what’s behind the products, not just that you like them for the shape or design, but how we arrive at our collections,” said Luti.

“In SoHo we had less traffic than usual and on Madison we had an opportunity because Florim, a fantastic Italian ceramics company we buy a lot from, moved to another location,” said Luti. “Our Madison Avenue flagship is better suited to showcase our wide range of new products, allowing for complete settings and layouts that truly enhance the shopping experience.”

In the U.S., Kartell has two other stores, a company-owned unit in Miami and a franchise in Los Angeles. “The U.S. program is to have five to seven stores in the next few years,” said Luti. Austin; San Diego; Washington, D.C., and Detroit are considerations. The focus is on larger stores and renovations to accommodate the wide range of upholstered sofas, armchairs, carpets, side tables, lights, tables, and chairs for residential and hospitality projects.

In 130 countries, Kartell has a total of 150 stores, including 14 company-owned, the rest franchised, and about 400 shops-in-shop including Galeries Lafayette, Rinascente, John Lewis, Bloomingdale’s, MOMA Design Store and multibrand specialty stores. “We have very close relations with our franchise partners. They know their markets and the architects within their markets,” Luti observed. Kartell also introduces a new catalogue once a year in February, and furniture can be customized.

Kartell’s range spans across various styles and environments, whether contemporary or classic, yet the products maintain a distinct identity. “We don’t like to speak of a particular Kartell style. With the creativity of the designers we work with and their cultural influences, their signature is on the products.”

“But what is particular to Kartell is that all the products and all the production, at the end, all work together, and also with other styles. So one of the characteristics of our collection is that it is very transferable, with nearly all of our styles to all kinds of houses, inside or outside of them, and in public spaces.”

In the firm’s early days, the core of the business was with plastic materials, yet in later years has developed materials, including recycled, organic and wood-based options, as well as high-performance and environmentally friendly green polycarbonate. Kartell has also embraced the combination of different materials, incorporating fabric with recycled materials or metal with wood.

“I can say that in the last seven, eight years, we have been working with all materials,” observed Luti. “We don’t like to limit the designers. We brief them on specific kinds of products, but we leave them quite free to design what they think fit in our collection. We work with the most important designers from all over the world, a total of about 14 currently,” Missoni as well as Starck among them.

“We work side-by-side to develop the project together and find the technologies and right materials. Sometimes the product comes from a design idea; sometimes from a technology, or a different material.” Other times, she added, the starting point is the design and Kartell finds a way to produce it. “So it’s always very, very different.

“Americans are familiar with a few important iconic pieces from Kartell but we would like to show them and talk about more pieces because the catalogue is now really big and we have a lot of opportunities,” said Luti. “The U.S. public focuses more on some products that are a little bit older; we have to show them what we are today, which is different from 10 or 20 years ago.”

Kartell on Madison Avenue and 32nd Street.
Kartell on Madison Avenue and 32nd Street.

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