Stores selling luxury goods — once modest and often isolated outposts of high couture in Boston — are rapidly multiplying, with opulent showrooms to display $9,500 Chanel evening bags and $1,125 Hermès shawls.
More than two dozen high-fashion brands have opened stores in the Back Bay in the past few years, while several longtime anchors have turned small showrooms into multifloor meccas of shimmering goods.
Their growth mirrors the surge of wealth that has flooded Boston in recent years, with stylish modern buildings where condos sell for seven figures, and restaurants that feature $62 Kobe steaks.
In just the past seven years, the number of millionaires in Massachusetts has grown by 33,000. The local financial industry has had a strong recovery, and a generation of young entrepreneurs has created a wildly successful technology scene in Boston and Cambridge.
“Boston is attracting a much more diverse cosmopolitan crowd, and that’s changing everything,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, a luxury real estate broker with a fashionable closet. “Boston used to have a very understated preppy vibe to it, and it’s changed tremendously. Fashion has evolved and become more diverse with the city.”
On Boylston Street, the chic Italian fashion retailer Bottega Veneta plans to open its first Boston store at the Heritage on the Garden building, where the French luxury brand Hermès is tripling the size of its store. Parisian designer Anne Fontaine intends to expand there as well.
Chanel just moved into a new store on Newbury Street that is four times the size of its old one, while the Neiman Marcus department store will be 40,000 square feet bigger with the massive renovation planned for Copley Place.
And the Back Bay center just announced two additional luxury sellers, L.K. Bennett and Furla, for its lineup.
Only a few years ago, Newbury Street was combating an exodus of retailers that struggled to pay the strip’s high rents amid sluggish sales. Now the vacancy rate around the shopping district is a spare 2 percent, with new outlets from upscale retailers such as Steven Alan and Marimekko.
“Now we have international and high-end retailers coming in,” said Randi Lathrop, director of business development at the Boston Redevelopment Authority. “A lot of these brands are not located in other parts of the city, so the Back Bay is becoming even more of a destination for boutique and upscale retail.”
Some of this activity can be attributed to the country’s recovery from the economic downturn — making Boston’s large number of higher-income workers more comfortable about indulgences again.
Nationally, sales of luxury goods have jumped in each of the last three years, hitting a record $70 billion in 2012, according to Boston Consulting Group.
Once derided as a provincial city, Boston continues to expand its international presence. Its financial and technology companies do business with customers around the world, and even its modest airport has added nonstop flights to numerous exotic capitals.
“Boston has so many tourists, and the schools bring a lot of people that are willing to spend,” said Ari Zlotkin, co-owner of the Anne Fontaine brand. The company’s Boston location is among the highest-performing of its 30 US stores.
And though it’s hard to see it ever rivaling Paris, Milan, or New York, old Beantown has much more potential to further develop its luxury shopping scene than other global metropolises, according to a recent analysis by Boston Consulting Group. The firm recently studied 600 cities around the world, sifting factors such as income level, number of affluent households and millionaires, tourist data, and existing store density, to pinpoint markets with the highest demand for luxury goods.
Boston was among the top 30 projected to outpace booming areas such as Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Geneva, and New Delhi over the next five years.
“Boston is a vibrant city with many students, tourists, and foreigners,” said Jean-Marc Bellaiche, head of global luxury at Boston Consulting Group. “It’s a very interesting city with a lot of potential. A lot of luxury companies are present, and there is potential for more.”
Though long a draw for wealthy foreign travelers, Boston has changed due to an influx of outsiders; since 2000 the city’s population has grown by 47,000, or 8 percent, and now one-fourth of Boston’s residents are foreign-born.
Much of the new housing is made up of high-end residences, with many apartments, for example, renting for $4,000 or more per month.
“It’s a very different city,” said real estate developer Ronald Druker. “We may not be Paris or London, but it’s a pretty sophisticated city and there’s a lot of interest in buying luxury goods. There are a lot of successful people with good taste.”
Druker remembers that when he built the swank Heritage on the Garden 25 years ago, Boston wasn’t even on the radar of many European brands. Now, one of his original tenants, Hermès, is expanding into a second floor and will feature a larger shoe department, more fine jewelry, and home goods.
A few blocks away on Newbury Street, the big new Chanel store is an elegant art-filled boutique decorated in an obvious homage to its Parisian roots.
Robert Caro, a Back Bay resident and real estate developer, still seemed star-struck days after he stopped in and found himself buying a $1,500 pair of Navy suede boots.
“It's the most amazing expansion I’ve ever seen,” Caro said. “It’s very well done and very refined. It’s absolutely a beautiful place.”