“The right buying is the most important thing”
If you like so, Emmanuel de Bayser was one of the first to bring luxury fashion to Berlin. Together with his partner Josef Voelk, the Parisian-born designer opened the boutique The Corner Berlin on Gendarmenmarkt in 2006. At the time, it was a rare contact point for the big international designers and a hotspot for the local fashion scene – even before there was a Fashion Week in the capital. Meanwhile de Bayser runs two more branches in the city, only last year he opened a large store near Kurfürstendamm. With the Fashion Council Germany, the retail expert talked about new demands on the retail trade, fashion changes in the capital – and why a new airport really is needed.
Mr de Bayser, While other boutiques and concept stores are closing, you are opening new ones. What is your recipe for success?
We intuitively do what we think fits the spirit of the times. We always think about something different. This also has to do with feeling and creation. With The Corner Berlin we want to inspire our customers.
How, for example?
Our new branch in the west of Berlin has a shop-in-shop with the French Macaron brand Ladurée. Sometimes visitors just come in to buy something sweet – and then perhaps discover a blouse or dress they like. That’s also how we create additional traffic. We’ve had a small branch in the West for years. With the new store and concept, we are more than doubling our turnover.
They create experiences that go beyond pure shopping.
Exactly. We always do small actions to reach our customers or those who might become our customers. For the European election, for example, we had a special EU sweatshirt in our range, which was created in cooperation with Place To B – also to support the idea of a common Europe. We also recently had a pop-up shop with Dior and a joint launch with Gucci last year.
Is that your answer to growing online retailing?
It’s not like customers just buy online. They like the world of apps, but they still like to shop. Online shopping can also be annoying. When I look at all these people queuing in line at the post office for half an hour to pick up their parcels – and then the order doesn’t fit and you’re back in line for the return shipment? They prefer to go to us and get a pre-sorted selection and fabulous service and are happy outside again after half an hour without losing any time.
Do you also rely on online marketing?
We work more and more with the social media, on Instagram we currently have about 35,000 followers. However, we rely on personal contact, sending our existing customers product images via Whats App that we think might be something for them. That’s a very personal service. That’s also why we have many regular customers.
You have recently read that you want to expand across Germany as a stationary company.
That’s actually always an option, but of course it depends on whether good opportunities arise. We are always open to it, our model also works well in other cities.
What is your concept?
We’ve been specializing heavily on the big hitters lately. You know, customers all over the world always want the same products and brands. The fashion industry is special in this respect. If you’re in a certain price range, it has to be a label. That’s Gucci, Dior, Prada, Balenciaga. We carry the latter, for example, right from the start. In general, we maintain long-term partnerships with most customers. They appreciate our continuity and see us in Germany as a reference.
How do you order? Do you go to trade fairs?
We do not visit trade fairs. I go to the most important fashion shows in Milan and Paris to capture the mood there and see in which direction fashion is developing. Otherwise we visit the showrooms. Of course this has intensified in recent years, but I have a good team. When ordering, I know from the outset what we need, and our customers also say what they want. I am then in direct contact with the brands. The right buying is the most important thing. You can have the best brands – if you buy wrong, you go broke.
International brands, fashion shows in Milan and Paris, expansion: How much Berlin is actually in The Corner?
We already have the city in our name – and it’s red. This is also a signal and has always been important to us. When we opened The Corner Berlin at Gendarmenmarkt in 2006, there wasn’t so much to offer in our segment. We have always found Berlin to be a city with a future. In Europe, there are not many comparable cities that are open, young and fresh.
At that time, a lot was happening in the industry in Berlin. In 2007, Fashion Week took place for the first time in the capital and with it came a feeling of a fashion upswing. What does it look like today in this respect?
In my opinion, the city itself needs to develop even more. Of course, the cool image is great – but you can’t just stay sexy about poverty in the long run. I don’t know what’s wrong with making money. In Munich, for example, you can see that the retail landscape there is more stable, with more potential for purchasing power.
Don’t the Berliners themselves buy any more?
No. Of course, we also live a lot from tourists and an international audience in general. But five years ago, tourism in Berlin was of even higher quality. I’m not saying that the way people travel is fundamentally bad – but for boutiques and restaurants, for example, a different level would have to be reached. This would require a minimum of service in Berlin as well as a clever airport that allows a wealthy clientele direct flights to the capital.
Paris is your home and the cosmopolitan city of fashion. You shouldn’t compare apples to pears – is there anything Berlin can learn from Paris?
Berlin has super qualities that Paris doesn’t have at all. The focus should rather be on Berlin’s strengths. Fashionably, however, the mentality has to change here. Germany is a rich country, and at the same time people spend their money on cars, travel and real estate rather than on food, fashion and lifestyle. Fashion is also a power economy. Unlike in France, this is not part of the culture here. I think that goes hand in hand with the professionalism of the local brands.
In what way?
In Germany, many designers go into business for themselves right after university instead of gaining experience. That’s super important! It also shows a certain humility towards fashion. We are talking here about an extremely professional industry in which you have to deliver quality as well as identity. There are many good ideas, but a little more professionalism doesn’t hurt Berlin.
Is that why you don’t have any German fashion labels in your assortment?
Yes, we now have Odeeh. We are also in contact with Iris von Arnim and can imagine making a pop-up store with her knitwear for the winter.
You are a member of the Fashion Council Germany. Why?
If we want to promote fashion in Germany, cooperation is very important. Berlin has all the important ingredients! Now it is a matter of crystallizing more strongly in which direction it should go. The retailers must not be absent – after all, the shops bring the money. I would like to see more collaboration in general. Between retailers, the press and stylists.
What do you hope to get out of it?
For example, magazines should shoot more of what’s hanging in stores in Germany in order to pick up customers. You know, the customer has more and more power and is much more informed today than in the past. The most important question should therefore always be: Who is my customer and how can I seduce her? Fashion is still about glamour, beauty and seduction. We should never forget that.