DFS opens new luxury lifestyle department store in Venice (Italy)

Fondaco dei Tedeschi, one of Venice’s most majestic Renaissance palazzos, overlooking the Grand Canal and steps from the Rialto Bridge has reopened to the public as a luxury department store, operated by duty-free giant DFS Group, which is directly owned by LVMH.

The Fondaco has been renamed T Fondaco dei Tedeschi and it now covers a  72,355-square-feet space which is the result of a multimillion-dollar restoration by OMA, the architecture firm of Rem Koolhaas, with interiors by the London-based architect Jamie Fobert. The result has preserved some elements of the building’s history, including a renovation under Napoleon, when it became a customs house, and a more radical change under Mussolini, who transformed it into Venice’s main post office. The décor takes inspiration from Venetian lace, the city’s trademark travertine floors, tapestries and architecture.

The lifestyle department store will offer a mix of Italian and international brands, including Fendi, Valentino, Jimmy Choo, Burberry, Tiffany and Bulgari, just as DFS does in its airport shops. But the similarities between this operation and what travelers see at J.F.K. or Abu Dhabi International will end there.

The Fondaco will be the 17th retail complex DFS has opened in downtown and resort locations under the name T Galleria (the “T” stands for “traveler”). While its other urban outposts are primarily in Asia and the Pacific islands — there are three T Gallerias in Australia and New Zealand and one in Hawaii — the Fondaco will be DFS’s first European location. If it works, it may herald a new venture in the stagnant world of Western department stores

“London has Harrods, New York has Saks, and Venice will have the Fondaco,” said Philippe Schaus, the chairman and chief executive of DFS. “What we’re doing has never been done before: taking a building of that magnitude and historical dimension and transforming it into a commercial center.”

The name T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi is meant to capitalize on the distinctiveness of the Venetian landmark (and, perhaps, to give the store an identity beyond DFS). The emporium will also offer high-end local products, such as Murano glassware, and have a restaurant managed by the Michelin-starred Venetian chef Massimiliano Alajmo and designed by Philippe Starck.

Venice was chosen as the inaugural site “because it is such an iconic city,” Mr. Schaus said — and because it lacked “organized distribution for luxury products,” a vacancy that the Fondaco intends to fill. Though DFS hopes to attract Italian shoppers, Venice’s shrinking population — 55,000 in the historic center at last count — doesn’t offer a robust customer base, so the store will have to appeal to the millions of tourists who visit the city.

This comes with its own set of challenges, however, most notably the need to ensure well-heeled customers a glamorous and indulgence-filled luxury experience in a destination mobbed by cruise ships.