VOL. MMXIII..No. 209

Notes From Abroad | Tracking Global Retail

In Venice, An Historic Palazzo Becomes Model for a New DFS Retail Concept




There is no ideal time of year to visit Venice. The jewel of Italy is notorious for feeling like an ant’s nest, with seemingly no corner not trampled by hordes of tourists.


And when it comes to Shopping, the city generally offers little more than an endless repetition of Murano glass doo-dads and other kitschy souvenirs.


In fall 2016, DFS, the world’s largest duty free shopping operator, changed all that with the opening of their new concept store called  T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi, a stunningly lavish emporium of luxury goods and truly Venetian specialities.


{ T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi is quite possibly the most important and impressive new retail concept to open in the past ten years. }



At top,the building’s custom escalator in lacquered red, a nod to the brand’s signature color; below, a display of handbags on one mezzanine.


The 16th century Renaissance building was originally the center of commercial and diplomatic activities for the city’s German merchants. Then – as now, it was designed to impress, a showcase for finery and meeting place for Venice’s cognoscenti.


Spread out over four massive floors with a grand central courtyard, T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi is quite possibly the most important and impressive new retail concept to open in the past ten years. It has accomplished the blending of culture and commerce in ways that others have often failed to do.


Along with retail, the building also houses a Michelin-starred restaurant and penthouse event space with terraces overlooking the city.


DFS has carefully maintained the original historic character of the building, and it pays off in delivering distinctly Venetian experience steeped in the past, yet still boldly modern.


One half expects Renaissance-costumed actors to roam about (and thank God, that’s not the case) or hear a chorus of golden trumpets — perhaps to announce the arrival of Bernard Arnault (DFS’s majority shareholder is Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, LVMH) who long ago believed in duty free shopping when no one else did.



At top, the beauty and fragrance area; below, handbags and accessories. Jamie Fobert Architects oversaw the interior design.


Still, even with all of LVMH’s clout, obtaining such a stunning site for a store did not happen overnight.


“We had been looking to go to Europe, it was just a matter of finding the right city and the right location,” says Eléonore de Boysson, is DFS Group Region President for Europe & Middle East.


“Our buildings are an integral part of the overall shopping experience and they need to be exceptional. When the Benetton family suggested we consider the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, an 800-year-old building on the Grand Canal which they own, we leapt at the opportunity. So, the timing for both the opportunity and the concept was perfect.”


{ “Our buildings are an integral part of the overall shopping experience and they need to be exceptional.” }


On the day we visited, the inner courtyard was abuzz, with shoppers wandering slowly so as to absorb the entire experience. The subtle variations of lighting, material, and décor create an altogether different ambiance to the frenetic streets outside.



A Chinese tour group begins their tour of the store, which includes plenty of photo ops with such displays as a Fendi truck kitted out with the latest handbags.


“Today’s consumers are evolving very rapidly. They have become more and more sophisticated and discerning, especially in Europe where the luxury market is more mature. This, combined with the incredible growth of online retail, spurred us to find ways to quickly adapt to our changing consumers, and increase the sense of experience offered in our physical stores. Customers are seeking a sense of place and wonder in today’s shopping environments.”


Of course, creating a sense of place is more easily accomplished when there is 800 years of history involved.


Architect Rem Koolhaas was charged with not only the considerable renovations but also to modernize the footprint for today’s purpose, as a collection of shops and services. No easy feat when there is a massive central courtyard dividing the building into quadrants.

{ The maze of galleries and chambers is precisely what makes the experience so magical. DFS intentionally left traces of the past untouched. }

But the maze of galleries and chambers is precisely what makes the experience so magical. DFS intentionally left traces of the past untouched, such as the graffiti on the walls of the first floor, or the original fireplaces.


The mezzanines and corridors are not just passageways, but rich opportunities for showcasing new merchandise, and seduce shoppers to continue exploring.


“The sumptuous interior design was created by Jamie Fobert to celebrate the unique elements of Venice such as water, glass, marble and wrought iron,” says de Boysson.


As with any large store, wayfinding is key.


Each floor features custom signage that does not compete or distract from the architecture, while all of the long corridors are strategically sprinkled with visual merchandising displays that further act as signposts for a particular department’s offering.


T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi is not only about luxury brands, but about elevating and celebrating the traditions, gastronomy, and artistry of Venice and Veneto. This in itself would present somewhat of a challenge in a city that can often feel like a theme park.




A key goal for DFS was not to elevate the arts and culture of Venice, from gastronomy (top) to unique Made in Italy products (center); T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi also presents exclusive collaborations such as one with Michael Kors (bottom).


“In Venice itself there are many souvenir shops but the quality of some of them is very poor and indeed many of the souvenirs are not even made in Italy,” says de Boysson.


“We partnered with the Confartigianato Venezia, an association of local artisans, to showcase the best of Venice’s traditional artisan community such as Murano glass, Burano lace, Venetian carnival masks and traditional Gondolier Furlane slippers, marked with DFS’ Made in Veneto authenticity label.”


In the year since it opened, the success of T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi can be proven not just in sales, but in the fact that even local Venetians shop there.


De Boysson and her team at DFS are insistent on raising the bar on traditional retail, despite the ever-looming threat of online shopping. Next on the horizon: the long-awaited completion of La Samaritaine in Paris, another icon reborn.

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