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The newly-renovated T Galleria by DFS balances heritage with high-end retail

After a year-long renovation, T Galleria by DFS has opened in historic Customs House near Auckland’s waterfront. It’s the only New Zealand stockist of a number of often-name-dropped international brands, and is home to more than 200 brands across four levels.

By Sarah Dunn | August 31, 2018 | Design

Among the New Zealand-exclusive brands at T Galleria by DFS are Bottega Venetta, Moncler, Burberry, Furla, MCM, Salvatore Ferragamo and SK-II. The company has occupied Custom House since 1997, but it began renovations a year to breathe new life into the space.

The renovated store will be launched with a special event today featuring highlights from New Zealand Fashion Week designers Wynn Hamlyn, Knuefermann, Kathryn Wilson, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Zambesi and local fashion designers Harman Grubiša, Maaike and Salasai, with a runway debut by Benjamin Alexander.

The building T Galleria by DFS occupies is an iconic one. It was built in 1889 as a trading house for import and export businesses. A competition was held to decide its design: entries came from firms in every major centre in New Zealand, but the winning design was submitted by Thomas Mahoney.

Mahoney’s design was roughly based on the Marshall and Snellgrove Department Store on London’s Oxford St. Upon completion, the New Zealand Herald praised Custom House as “the cheapest building of its class which has been erected in Auckland for some time past”.

Eighty four years later, New Zealand’s customs department vacated the building in 1973, leaving the premises dilapidated and open to repurposing by a group of architecture students, who planned to turn it into a theatre.

Custom House was saved from demolition by the Customhouse Preservation Committee during the late 1970s, and in 1979, American entrepreneur John Hulbert and assistant architect Glyn Braddy began restoration with the private backing of the company now known as Tower Insurance.

It opened as a theatre complex in 1982, but within months, the company managing it went into liquidation. Custom House reopened that same year under new management, changing hands in 1986 for a little over $4 million. After a brief career as a car park, it was purchased in 1994 by Australian property developers Mirvac Group, which negotiated with DFS to use it as the duty-free shopping complex it is today.

Robert Calzadilla, region president Asia South for the DFS Group, says the Group wanted to offer travellers “an exciting, modern retail experience in the heart of Auckland’s CBD”. He describes T Galleria as the ultimate luxury destination for both locals and visitors.

The renovation has carefully preserved historical elements of Custom House, Calzadilla says.

“A perfect blend of the past and the present, the building boasts a traditional Heritage Walkway where customers can take their time to explore a chronological path that explains the historical significance of the building and maps its transformation from inception to today.”

Among Calzadilla’s favourite heritage features are the wooden floorboards, which have been expertly restored during the renovation.

“Retail renovations are always challenging yet exciting,” he says. “We had to meet our timelines whilst ensuring the store was open to our customers during renovations – all the while assuring that we continued to offer the luxurious and personalized retail experience that DFS is known for around the world. Also, restoring and renovating a historically significant building, which is recognized and loved by local residents, requires a very specific level of care and attention to detail.”

Asked what customers will notice first, Calzadilla talks us through their experience upon entering the store:

“Our iconic green doors will open up to unveil the store’s historical staircase, with a twist! Local artist Otis Frizzell has designed a unique and fun pop-art installation which will bring a whole new visual experience to customers over three months. The iconic staircase then leads customers into four floors that offer beautiful products from all five of our ‘pillars of luxury’  -  fashion and accessories, beauty and fragrances, watches and jewelry, wines and spirits, and food and gifts.”

Besides preserving heritage features, DFS Group has also leveraged new technology and techniques such as AI and AR into the renovated store store. This technology is showcased during T Galleria by DFS’ annual “First Class Beauty” campaign, which is powered by a partnership with Chinese technology company Meitu. Calzadilla says that during August 28-31, this campaign will see customers at DFS’ Lip Bar at NZFW able to mix and match over 100 lipsticks from 20 brands virtually and instantly, or try on six of DFS’ make-up looks tailored to individual skin tones and face shapes.

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