SINGAPORE - A simple, sleek 800 sq ft space, sandwiched between Italian brethren Miu Miu and Moschino in Paragon, heralds the quiet arrival of Milanese brand Valextra in Singapore last week. The brand, which first launched in 1937, is known for its leather bags and accessories.
On one of its walls is a black-and-white poster, showing the brand's Piazza San Babila atelier - the workshop above its first store - in the 1940s, with artisans working on a simple, rectangular top-handle bag. The bag would not look out of place on the wooden shelves of the store today, on which sit other bags that mimic its clean, classic embellishment-free silhouettes.
That kind of timeless elegance is what has earned Valextra a cult following, says newly appointed design director Alvaro Gonzalez, 48.
"It has no logo but those who know can recognise it from the other side of the street," says the Spaniard, on the bags' subtle trademarks such as black piping and handcrafted Italian calfskin leathers. Prices for the items range from $360 onwards for small leather goods and $3,100 onwards for bags.
The Singapore store is the brand's first in South-east Asia, and marks a global push for the lesser-known label, adds Valextra chief executive Marco Franchini.
While they want to maintain the niche, insider feeling the brand evokes, "we don't want to be under the radar any more", says the 57-year-old Italian.
Mr Franchini - formerly head of Swiss shoe label Bally - was appointed by the brand's new owner, investment firm NEC Capital, in March. The company aims to reach sales of 80 to 100 million euros (S$135million to S$169million) over the next five years, compared to current revenues of 13million euros. While the brand has a strong presence in Japan, South Korea and the United States outside of Italy, plans are afoot to open more stores in Asia and the Middle East. Over the next five years, the brand hopes to open 10 to 15 in Hong Kong, Beijing, Macau, Shanghai and Taipei.
"There will not be changes to the essence of the brand - which is its understated, minimal, impeccable taste - but we will increase distribution," says MrFranchini.
Valextra is perfectly suited for a changing market such as China, he adds.
The Valextra brand entered the Hong Kong market in 2006 under its previous owners, holding company Carfin 92, but left the market after three years. MrFranchini would say only that it was a different time previous to his tenure, and that finding the right partner for each market is of utmost importance. The Singapore store is the result of a partnership with local fashion group FJ Benjamin.