Destination Guides

A Very Venetian Debut

A conversation with DFS Group’s Chairman and CEO, Philippe Schaus, about his company’s first retail space in Europe

A Very Venetian Debut

In a city known for its enchanting canals and narrow winding streets, the world of luxury retail has not taken centre stage — until now. This month, the DFS Group opened its inaugural European location — the T Fondaco dei Tedeschi —  in Venice, ushering in a plush shopping opportunity that was not yet available in The Floating City. With over 7,000 sq m of retail space and a strategic location just steps away from Rialto Bridge paired with views of the Grand Canal, this new department store  — featuring both premium and local names — offers men and women’s fashion, jewellery, and watches. But this new destination is about more than just high-end shopping; it features a restaurant, an Italian food hall and a pavilion space for cultural exhibitions.

Departures: What was the grand idea behind siting a T Galleria in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi?

Philippe Schaus: The Fondaco dei Tedeschi – an 800-year-old merchant hall that began its life connecting East and West at the heart of Europe’s spices and silk trade – is one of Venice’s grand landmarks and a testament to the city’s history as a hub of culture and commerce. The T Galleria shopping experience has always been inspired by our customers’ thrill of discovery, so when we were offered the opportunity to create a T Galleria store within this historic space, it was a challenge we simply could not pass up. 

This is DFS Group’s first retail store — a lifestyle department store, as it’s called — in Europe. Why was Venice chosen as the inaugural location?

As a luxury travel retailer, DFS aims to create surprising and delightful shopping experiences in the most desired destinations worldwide. With a strong footprint in Asia, Australia, North America and the Middle East in both airport and downtown Galleria stores, Europe was an obvious next step. When we first considered entering Europe we looked at cities such as Paris, London and Rome; but Venice, with its flowing waterways, romantic gondolas and stunning architecture, turned out to be the perfect location. Every traveler dreams of visiting Venice once in their lifetime!

We also saw a great opportunity to create a highly curated collection featuring the best of Italian and Venetian brands, as well as local products alongside the many international brands DFS is known for. This was an experience that didn’t exist in Venice already, but that mirrored many of the distinct qualities of the city. And of course, we had the opportunity to return a venerable building to its original function as a grand trading emporium. In the end, we couldn’t have come up with a better way to introduce DFS to Europe.

To many, Venice’s shopping scene is a tourist trap, rather than a high-end experience. With dwindling numbers of locals and the ever-present throng of tourists – how will T Fondaco dei Tedeschi fit into such a retail landscape?

While the city attracts over 20 million tourists annually, there is somewhat of a lack of luxury shopping options for them within the city. Also, travellers want to buy something that will remind them of their holiday, and while there are many souvenir shops in Venice, you can’t always be confident that what you are buying is authentic or represents the best of what Venice has to offer. T Fondaco dei Tedeschi provides Venice with a whole new dimension in retail, offering a mix of predominantly Italian brands alongside the world’s best known international brands and a great selection of local products, all under one truly exceptional roof.

Venice’s tight building and conservation regulations are undoubtedly a challenging prospect. What sensitivities did opening such an ambitious store in Fondaco dei Tedeschi present?

Working within a historic building that is well-known and loved by local residents was a huge responsibility. We worked closely with the City of Venice to ensure not only that we met their requirements for a historical building, but that we created a tribute to the history and role of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. I’m thrilled to say that the Venetians have been very receptive to what we’ve done and I truly feel that, with the unveiling of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi, we have returned this incredible edifice to its rightful place as a centre of commerce and culture.

With such high-profile names as OMA and Jamie Fobert involved in the store’s interior styling, what can guests expect when they visit T Fondaco dei Tedeschi?

Both OMA and Jamie Fobert brought such an amazing sensitivity and understanding of not only the Fondaco but of Venice itself, weaving the city’s essence into their designs. Originally built in the 13th century, the current structure dates from 1506 when it was rebuilt after a fire. To restore the Fondaco, OMA made strategic interventions without disrupting the building’s status as a monument to unlock its potential as a contemporary department store. Jamie Fobert, inspired by the motifs and elements of Venice such as marble and water, then designed the store’s interiors and fixtures in a way that provides subtle nods to the city’s history as an architectural capital. The result is that as customers move through the space they feel connected to both Venice’s past and present.

Is this Venice opening a sign of things to come? Where next?

Absolutely. T Fondaco dei Tedeschi has set a new bar for the DFS experience and we intend to continue to deliver that fantastic blend of local and global in all of our locations. At our core, DFS seeks out opportunities and locations that delight travellers and we will continue to search across the world for the kind of unique shopping experiences personified by T Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Wherever we go next, we’re positive that shoppers will be thrilled.