Habitat e fuorisalone
The first Habitat Store is in CityLife, Milan. Alain Houli explains us the strategy to seduce Italian public and the initiatives for the FuoriSalone 2018
With a little bit of malice, the title could have also been ‘Habitat tries again to open in Italy’ since the same attempt in 1995 resulted in a failure. At that time, Habitat opened ten stores in the former Croff shops. Today’s premises are different, the market has changed and, most importantly, Alain Houli, director at Habitat Italia, has very clear ideas:
Design Diffusion: What are your strengths in the relaunch of the Habitat brand in Italy?
Alain Houli, director at Habitat Italia: “I am French, but I have been living in Italy for 35 years and I have always worked in the furniture industry, so I think I know this market well. In 2011 Habitat was acquired by French group CAFOM and now it is experiencing expansion: it has recently opened in Beijing. The general line consists in collaborating with top designers to offer the customers style and quality at affordable prices, preserving our unmistakable mark as an international brand.”
Alain Houli’s words make us step back to tell something about this brand that may be defined ‘historic’: it was founded in London by Sir Terence Conran in 1964, in the Swinging London years, in a creative and positive atmosphere. Just think that the previous year Mary Quant invented the miniskirt. Soon the enlightened young middle class and the intellectuals prone to follow trends identified themselves in Habitat. It was the first monobrand home furnishing chain, conceived to make design appealing to a wider audience. Among Terence Conran’s pioneering ideas, there was the catalogue, designed as a home décor magazine and made available to anybody. Nowadays, only in Great Britain Habitat has an independent line with respect to the rest of the world.
DD: How did you create this Habitat store in CityLife?
AH: In a few months, but with an in-depth work to choose, among 6,500 references, the right mix that could meet Italian tastes. The 2,200 sq m store, spread over three levels, was curated by Pierre Favresse, art director of the whole group. A successful aspect consists in the fact that it is located within CityLife but it is also independent from the mall, or better, while one façade overlooks the shopping district, particularly the area dedicated to design objects for the home, another front can be accessed from the street, being open to the city. The Habitat Milano store is made to inspire customers, welcoming them into different domestic environments. The quality of our products needs to be watched closely, touched, not just seen on a web page. On the third floor, there is Hauz, an ideal partner that completes Habitat’s product range with high-quality textiles for the bedroom and the bathroom, neat lines available in many colors, made of first-rate cotton and linen.
DD: Combining high quality with affordable prices is not so easy, yet…
AH: Habitat still believes in creativity as an answer to standardization. Pierre Favresse, designer and art director, runs a constantly working laboratory that produces ideas and intelligent solutions also to reduce production and storage costs, and to allow for an easy assembly. Moreover, it relies on designers from all over the world, both famous and emerging. The collection is the same anywhere, from Paris to Milan, from Copenhagen to Hong Kong and Bangkok. Habitat is an international brand expressing a unique style through over 200 stores all over the world. On the other hand, Habitat’s collections are so broad that it is natural to adapt them to local characteristics. For example, the Italians pay much more attention to the bathroom, if compared to French people, and the house still represents an important item of expenditure for Italian families, who care for the quality of domestic spaces and the pleasure of conviviality. The Spring/Summer 2018 collection is called ‘Back to black’, i.e. the elegance of black interpreted according to Habitat’s style, combined with pops of color and raw materials such as wood, porcelain stoneware and linen.
DD: The quality/price ratio depends also on the suppliers, doesn’t it?
AH: Habitat collaborates with other brands that are selected for their high-level production and experience. I can mention Artemide for some lamps, De Buyer for professional kitchen, Yellow Korner for art photos. Also production places are selected depending on the competence: textiles are produced in India, basketwork in Southeast Asia, towels in Egypt for the excellent cotton, bed linen in Flanders.
DD: There will be Milan Design Week soon…
AH: And I bet a lot on the FuoriSalone 2018, which will give us the chance to recall the over fifty-year history of Habitat. The exhibition space will twist and turn through the galleries of the Shopping District and there will be an original and special temporary outlet where it will be possible to buy unique (or rare) pieces belonging to the historic archive. Le café Habitat will host an event dedicated to coffee, including tastings. By the way, throughout the year, we aim to enliven the store with meetings and workshops.
DD: Are you planning a commercial and promotional strategy to expand in Italy, starting from Milan?
AH: There will be seasonal promotions and a fidelity, or better a community program including advantages and special offers. We want to engage our customers and to make them experience the world of Habitat, a value that is perfectly expressed by our logo – a heart and a house. We are organizing workshops with the designers and others on how to furnish a house and choose the right accessories.
DD: Is there a development plan for the chain in Italy?
AH: We would like to open 10 stores and the second might be located in Milan as well. We will act in a timely yet gradual manner, testing people’s reactions. We are neither Ikea department stores nor showrooms of Italian top design companies, but we believe that, between these two poles, there is also room for Habitat to be successful. I used to dream of working for Habitat, a company that I have always appreciated, so I’m very enthusiast about it!”
[Text Lucia Bocchi]