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Exotic carmaker Lamborghini opens Vancouver clothing boutique, only third in world

RICHMOND, B.C. - They say when you've got it, flaunt it, and it's hard to flaunt any harder than tooling down your street in a Lamborghini, the cheapest of which retails for around $200,000.

RICHMOND, B.C. - They say when you've got it, flaunt it, and it's hard to flaunt any harder than tooling down your street in a Lamborghini, the cheapest of which retails for around $200,000.

But what if you don't have it and you still want to flaunt it?

Well, you can drive your Toyota Corolla to the Automobili Lamborghini Boutique in Richmond, B.C., and buy yourself a Lamborghini jacket, or a hoodie, or maybe just a coffee mug.

The purveyor of ultra-exclusive, outrageously styled exotic cars has opened only its third retail shop in the world in this Vancouver suburb — the others are in Beijing and Los Angeles.

The store in Richmond's upscale Aberdeen Centre has its grand opening Saturday night, highlighted by a parade of Lamborghinis to the mall and then a fashion show displaying its ''collezione” of Italian-designed sporty clothes carrying Lambo's trademark Spanish fighting bull logo.

In the last three years company officials have discovered what other ultra-luxury automakers such as arch-rival Ferrari have known for some time: a lot of people want to identify themselves, even in a small way, with la dolce vita.

''If you're a luxury brand there is always the opportunity to sell even outside the core business,” says Stephan Winkelmann, president of Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A., in town for the store's grand opening.

''As long as this is giving additional profit and it's not diluting the brand, it's a must-do because a luxury brand always has a limited opportunity to grow, because a luxury business is always to produce less than demand.”

Lamborghini, headquartered in Sant'Agata Bolognese, sells on average about 2,000 cars a year. Last year it was down to just over 1,200, 38 of which were sold in Canada.

In a good year the company sells about 70 cars in Canada, according to Winkelmann, who moved to Lamborghini five years ago from FIAT, the Italian auto giant that owns Ferrari.

The doorstop-shaped Lamborghini Gallardo, whose 560-horsepower V-10 engine rockets the two-seater to 100 kilometres an hour in 3.7 seconds, starts at around $198,000. The Murcielago — 12 cylinders, up to 670 hp, half a second faster to 100 km/h — starts at around $350,000.

Dream cars, to be sure. That's what the clothes and trinkets are about, too, says Winkelmann.

''It's all about emotions; it's about fulfilling dreams and we have even the duty to do something to let the people feel part of this world of Lamborghini,” he says. ”There's at most a few brands that have this opportunity and we are among them.”

Store owner Asgar Virji, who holds the franchise for Lamborghini cars in Western Canada, calls the clothing line edgy and extreme.

Really, it's somewhere to the right of skateboarder couture, more Euro-sleek than in your face.

But the context is really the cars. In the world of Italian exotics, Lamborghini was always the brash upstart.

Legend has it Ferruccio Lamborghini, who made his fortune after the Second World War manufacturing agricultural equipment, air conditioners and heaters, was having problems with his Ferrari and took his complaint straight to Enzo Ferrari himself.

But when ''Il Commendatore'' snubbed him, Lamborghini decided to build his own supercar, the Ferrariesque GT 350, which debuted in 1963.

The car that put Lamborghini on the map two years later was the Miura, which looked like nothing else on the road. The un-Ferrari.

Lamborghini followed that with the Contach — wedge-shaped, scissor-doored, bristling with intake ports and vents — that even today makes the Gallardo look tame. Contach posters probably graced as many teenage boys' walls in the 1970s as Farah Fawcett.

But by the mid-70s, financial problems forced Lamborghini to relinquish control of his car company. It passed through a series of owners, including at one point Chrysler and even FIAT.

It's now under the disciplined guidance of Audi AG, itself a subsidiary of Volkswagen.

Throughout, Lamboghini has sought to retain its brash image against Ferrari's storied history and racing pedigree.

''The philosophy behind the Collezione Automobile Lamborghini fashion line is synonymous with the traits of each Lamborghini vehicle,” says Virji.

That seems in tune with the company's target market: newly rich Chinese entrepreneurs. Lamborghini sold 80 cars in China last year, despite the recession, and expects to sell 100 this year.

That's why the Aberdeen Centre location made sense.

The store, with two Lambos on display, actually has been open since Chinese New Year in February. Virji says many shoppers are so-called ”astronauts,” who divide their time between Canada and China.

''We get a big influx of wealthy mainland China customers,” he says. ''Clearly we don't sell cars here but we tease them.”

In fact, Virji said he has indeed sold cars to visitors who came in to browse the clothes, then ended up at his downtown dealership.

Winkelmann says clothing will never overshadow the car side of the business but it's profitable enough to merit his personal attention here this weekend.

''It's not saving our souls but it's important.”

 
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