BEYOND a security checkpoint at San Francisco International Airports International Terminal, travelers are met by five golden letters beloved by jet-setters, respected by royalty and pined for by the aspiring masses: Gucci.

These magic letters, which graced the likes of Jackie O, Princess Di and Mary J. Blige, represent nothing more, nor less, than a line of leather goods and apparel — now available at of all places the Bay Areas largest international airport.

The brand-new Gucci boutique is the first of its kind at a U.S. airport, lending an extra aura of luxury to travelers who already have the option of getting their hair done at a salon, luxuriating in a spa or dining in a range of locally owned gourmet eateries.

Gucci selected this particular airport because of its sleek design ... and its very much in line with modern luxury, said Janet Mullinax, a marketing manager for DFS Group, the international duty-free company operating the boutique.

Any travelers first stride into the Gucci store — which glistens with beige and cream aluminum — is met by the pungent smell of premium leather and a neat array of belts, shoes, scarves, watches, wallets and a world of bags stamped with G.

This is a little bit like heaven, said Victoria Burton, an aspiring British television personality. Its nice to see Gucci.

Burton, 26, was shooting episodes of a British reality auction show for an American launch and said that she felt a little starved for the good life.


Advertisement

Ive been in Reno for four weeks ... so you can imagine, she added.

I like the luxurious ... a bit of glamour, she said, eying a pair of tortoise-shell sunglasses with the classic interlocking G symbol on the frames.

By the counter, a sales representative talked Gucci 101 with a woman flying to Hong Kong.

Wheres this from? asked the woman.

Its Italian, said the clerk.

How much? said the woman.

$700, the clerk said, smiling.

Its beautiful, but so expensive, the woman said. You dont have any discount?

At Gucci, the prices are not negotiable.

The wallets average $350, the scarves range from $215 to $315 and a sterling silver dog collar in the shape of a bone costs $95. The cheapest item was a striped cell phone strap ($70); the priciest was a large womens watch with a mother-of-pearl face framed by an enormous G encrusted with diamonds ($1,895).

Of course, the goods do come duty free, and the high costs didnt seem to deter sales Wednesday morning.

A Korean man, a finance officer for a U.S. post office on a U.S. military base in South Korea, handed the clerk a $685 handbag, a Christmas gift for his wife.

Expensive, but worth it, he said proudly.

Of course its worth it, the sales clerk said.

The spread of ultraluxury brands like Gucci, Hermes and Bulgari to the worlds airports and shopping plazas is a growing trend, according to Kazuko Morgan, the director of retail service at Cushman and Wakefield, a San Francisco real estate firm.

Morgan, who travels the world and eyes the brands marketing strategies carefully, explained the sales logic.

How it starts is, you get an accessory, and then you grow with the brands, she said. So they start with the $200 sunglasses, and many years later they end up with the $3,000 purchase.

For retail centers like SFO, the presence of a Gucci store becomes something of a status symbol in and of itself.

Airport spokesman Mike McCarron understands that a store like Gucci has a certain cachet for SFO, but the decision to pluck the boutique from a pool of about a dozen retail applicants for the space was only in the best interests of the airports clientele, he said.

The international market spends 15 to 20 percent more at the airports retail stores than the domestic market, he said, and we want to make sure that we meet the needs of the market.

Gucci is part of that, he added, explaining that the airport will monitor the stores performance while considering the addition of other high-end stores.

For the boutique, which opened last week in the midst of the Christmas rush, the signs look bright and shiny as a brass G buckle. 

Erik Almas, a photographer based in San Francisco, stopped in the boutique Wednesday with his girlfriend while waiting for a flight to Norway to visit his mother.

Last year Almas saved the Christmas shopping until his arrival at Londons Heathrow airport, where he found, for his mother, a pair of Gucci sunglasses and a Gucci purse.

This year the Christmas shopping came one airport earlier. At the new boutique, Almas chose a supple brown wallet with the classic Gucci signature print ($340), a percentage of which will go to the airport at the end of the year.

Only, heres a question: Why would someone shell out that kind of money for a pedigreed wallet?

Almas paused to consider but couldnt seem to arrive at an answer.

Because your mother is special to you, prodded his girlfriend.

Yeah, he said, approvingly.

Then, as Almas watched the clerk walk away with his credit card, he gave the matter more thought. I mean, he said, you dont just buy this s—- every day.

Staff writer Michael Manekin can be reached at (650) 348-4331 or by e-mail at mmanekin@sanmateocountyimes.com.