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How DFS group, the luxury travel retailer, balances history and modernity

The influences from the East juxtaposed with the romanticism of Italian culture has made Venice a must-see travel destination– it’s said that the ratio of tourists to locals during the summer months is a staggering 600:1. With so much traffic to an ancient city whose infrastructure is unable to equip such volume, Venice today is in a state of flux.

Sadly, like many other popular European destinations, Venice continues to fall victim to the plague of commercialism, facing both physical and cultural eradication. According to Bill Weir, the journalist and host of CNN’s ‘The Wonder List,’ “Venice is really being loved to death.” Despite this grim reality, DFS, a 57-year-old luxury travel retailer has set out to restore a bit of Venice’s former glory with its latest experiential retail venture that aligns the city’s history and culture with the modern tastes of young travelers.

“Considering Venice’s role as one of the world’s top travel destinations, as a travel retailer this was really the right first step in Europe for DFS,” said Eléonore de Boysson, DFS Group’s Region President, Europe and Middle East. Honouring Italian and international fleeting luxury designers alongside some of Venice’s own true remaining artisans, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi opened its doors in October 2016 in a famed and historically rich 13th century building in the heart of Venice. Serving as a retail beacon, the sprawling space brings a new type of luxury shopping experience to the city.

Designed by architect Rem Koolhaas and Jamie Fobert, who spearheaded the interior design, the retail venture sits across 7000 square meters and is just a stone’s throw from two of Venice’s most iconic and high traffic sites: St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge. The building itself initially operated as a trading post, connecting under one roof, the treasures of the East with those of the West. Eventually, it became as a space for public parties, celebrations and charity initiatives before falling victim to fire in the 16th century. Once restored, it again served as a centre for global trade before Napoleon evolved it into a customs house. Finally, by the late 19th century, the building became a post office, remaining that way for many years.

Today, the structure’s purpose does not differ all that much from its roots. Housing an impressive roster of brands popular in both the east and the west, it functions as an epicenter of commerce, connecting travelers around the world with a vast assortment of international and local product. “We had been looking for opportunities to expand within Europe,” says Boysson. “When we were offered the chance to partner with Edizione [an Italian holdings company] to transform and restore the ancient Fondaco dei Tedeschi to its original role as a gathering place of commerce and culture in the heart of Venice, it was an opportunity we simply couldn’t pass up.”

On the ground floor lies a boutique stocked with goods from local artisans. “We want to bring shoppers an experience that reflects the destination they are visiting and allows them to discover something they wouldn’t find anywhere else,” says Boysson. Using the tactics of a pastime, these craftsmen offer consumers a slow luxury; something that’s hard to come by today considering the speedy pace brands autonomously churn out product, from ideation to store shelf. The artisans featured in store are scouted from the local Venetian ateliers. DFS works with Confartigianato Venezia, (an organization that looks after small businesses in the region) to help DFS authenticate that its local artisanal goods truly derive from Venice and its surrounding areas. By working so hard to honour the local craftsmen, DFS is educating a new generation, showing them what makes Venice so supremely special. While the commercialisation of the city is only natural considering its popularity, shining a light on slow-made, hand-crafted goods enables the history of the city to continue to thrive amongst a new group.

Opened in the structure’s courtyard last December, AMO, described as a “Venetian café,” offers its guests a curated cuisine courtesy of its world-renowned star chefs, the Alajmo brothers. Nearby lies a space that houses some of the true delicacies of Italy; food. Pastas, oils and wines line its shelves alongside its own brand of private label merchandise. “From food to fragrance to fashion, shoppers can truly indulge themselves in the best of Italy and bring home a piece of that Italian lifestyle,” says Boysson.

Other offerings of the store consist of fashion, jewelry and accessories housed on its first, second and third levels. Of the entire assortment offered in the space, close to 60% derives from Italian or local Venetian designers; an impressive figure that solidifies the retail space as an ode to Italian patriotism and Venetian history. Recently, the retailer launched a new exclusive collection, ‘From Venice with Love,’ which is comprised of more than 50 items from 30 different Italian and international design houses. “Our Merchandising teams worked closely with the brands to curate the collection,” says Boysson. “Inspired by the colors of Italy, each piece has elements of either red, white or green, and the collection can be found at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, but is also at T Galleria and DFS stores worldwide.”

Moving upwards, DFS opted to expand the building’s structure during construction with the aim of fostering the worlds of commerce and culture under one roof.  Partnering with local artists and cultural institutions, they created a rotating event space on the fourth floor, dubbed the “Events Pavilion.” This initiative sees DFS connect the local community with curious travelers for special weekly art exhibits, panel discussions and screenings that are sure to draw in global crowds looking to be a bit more immersed in local culture.

The journey to T Fondaco is complete upon reaching the rooftop, which offers patrons a painfully beautiful panoramic view of the city. Similar to the way the roofs of The Galeries Lafayette and Printemps offer panoramic, widespread views of Paris, this rooftop venture at T Fondaco is an attraction that is sure to draw in large crowds. The retailer has thus emerged as an absolute must-see stop while in town – especially for those young tourists looking to capture and share experiences online. “We have to be experiential in all that we do to truly surprise and delight our customers,” says Boysson.  “By bringing together the worlds of architecture, history, art, culture and food in addition to our fabulous product offering and outstanding service, we have made T Fondaco truly a destination in itself.”

While Venice may be on the brink of sinking, its history and iconic culture remain very much alive, and highly elevated, thanks to T Fondaco by DFS.

 

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