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Exclusive interview with Illum Copenhagen


Copenhagen’s acclaimed department store Illum is in the throes of an impressive renovation plan which will add culinary delights and even a chic place to stay, as Sally McIlhone discovers

Sally McIlhone ,

‘If you are visiting Copenhagen there are three things that you’ll see: Tivoli, the Little Mermaid and Illum,’ says Søren Vadmand, the legendary department store’s CEO. He is clearly confident of his store’s appeal – and with good reason. Illum attracts 6.5m visitors each year and is the ideal one-stop shop. ‘You can get everything under one roof,’ explains Vadmand. ‘It’s a triple location in the heart of Copenhagen, you have 40,000 square metres [of retail space] and very good brands for men and women.’

The store is constantly evolving. Acquired by Italian department store giant La Rinascente in 2013, it has since been undergoing a five-year renovation plan which will improve and update the building as well as unveiling a few surprises along the way. The project involves an investment of €50m, says Vadmand, and improvements include ‘new entrance, new façade, new floor, new ceiling, new air conditioning, new lighting and a totally new brand mix in store. We will have flagship stores on the ground floor, a restaurant area with eight restaurants and then up at the top we will put a hotel – the first hotel in a department store.’

It’s an ambitious project, to say the least, but one that will elevate Illum’s international status, allowing it to compete with the likes of La Rinascente in Italy, Selfridges in the UK and Colette in Paris. ‘We have a five-year plan, but we hope to complete it in four years,’ says Vadmand. ‘[In 2014] we did the outside, the façade and the ground floor, in three phases.’ The past 12 months have been busy.

A fresh face
Creating a homogenous façade across each of Illum’s three buildings, all built in different eras, was one of the first challenges to be met, and has been accomplished by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, which redevised the exterior of the building. Creating a more visitor-friendly entrance from the Strøget shopping area is another. ‘We have moved the escalator so you don’t have to search for it any more; it’s at the entrance,’ says Vadmand. ‘The atrium has been made smaller and we have new wood-covered escalators. The new entrance is brighter, with larger canopies. We will even change the Illum logo, so the store is ready for the next 120 years.’

Although Illum will thus be parting ways with its swallow motif, well-known in Copenhagen for many years, the store has become a prime example of Scandinavian modernity. ‘We have put in new lifts that go directly to the fourth floor where we’re going to open eight restaurants,’ says Vadmand. ‘The restaurant area will be covered in wood rather than steel so it will be very Scandinavian.’

Gastronomic delights
In a city with an impressive culinary reputation, Illum’s restaurant floor will be an important feature in attracting visitors and brands. ‘Copenhagen has a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants and the amount of hype surrounding Scandinavian food is very high,’ Vadmand continues. ‘I was in Singapore two weeks ago and everybody asked me, “Do you know René [Redzepi] from Noma, and can you book me a table?” I said, “Yeah, I know him but it’s very difficult!” But there are a lot of other nice restaurants and that’s another reason why brands are willing to come to Copenhagen right now.’

Brands are certainly willing to come to Illum. In late 2014, the store opened an 850-square-metre accessories ‘universe’, showcasing bags, scarves and leather goods from labels that include Karl Lagerfeld, Marni, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga. For spring/summer 2015, Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, Saint Laurent and Tod’s will open flagship stores on the ground floor, each with its own separate entrance. Illum’s brand portfolio is set to be one of the city’s most impressive – and this is just the beginning. 

‘We will start working on the women’s floor in January. That will take approximately six months and then we will continue with the men’s floor and the third floor the year after,’ says Vadmand. It is expected that the hotel will be completed in 2016. It will be a small luxury hotel with a foyer, restaurant and bar on the ground floor, about 30 rooms on the fourth floor and five on the fifth floor. These will have their own private entrances and every room will have its own balcony. ‘The customers can actually shop till they drop, and sleep,’ Vadmand says. ‘And while we have this location in the middle of Copenhagen, why not take the opportunity to do that?’ We couldn’t agree more.

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