Roland Wolff: Leica Store and Gallery Los Angeles

We sat down with Roland Wolff, Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Retail for Leica Camera, Inc., to discuss the grand opening of the Leica Store and Gallery Los Angeles. Roland is responsible for all Leica branded retail outlets in the Americas, including Leica boutiques and stores. Below, Roland gives us the inside scoop on what to expect from Leica’s newest retail location.

Q: Where is the store actually located in L.A. and is there a particular reason you chose Los Angeles for Leica’s next store and gallery?

A: It is located in West Hollywood at 8783 Beverly Boulevard and it will be open seven days a week. Los Angeles is the center of the entertainment industry with a dynamic arts scene that is rapidly expanding. Between film making and photography we have many people in this city that appreciate great images, whether still or moving. Photography as an art has found a welcome home in L.A. We’re excited to be here.

Q: What made Leica decide to expand to the West Coast? Was there not a Leica presence in L.A.?

A: We have a number of great Leica dealers in and around Los Angeles. We work especially close with Samy’s Camera and have a Leica Boutique in Samy’s Camera on Fairfax Avenue not far from the Leica Store.

The underlying idea is that we showcase the brand to many different photo enthusiasts. Some will prefer the selection in a multi-brand store like Samy’s whilst others will enjoy the unique atmosphere and Leica centric offerings in the Leica Store and Gallery. Our experience from other markets shows that this stimulates a market overall. In this case, we expect the Leica Store and Leica Gallery L.A. to not only have an impact in Los Angeles but the entire U.S. and the rest of the world.

Q: Can you comment on the size, design and ownership of Leica Store and Gallery L.A.?

A: The space is 8,000 square-feet. It’s a corporate Leica Store, meaning that it is fully owned and operated by Leica Camera Inc., the subsidiary of Leica Camera AG in North America. The space was planned in very close cooperation with Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, our majority shareholder, and Steffen Keil, head of international sales in Germany, due to its international importance. Even though my entire team was working on this project, it was Kathy Goldman that oversaw the design and construction of the project.

Q: Are there any special events taking place in conjunction with the grand opening?

A: We have our Grand Opening event this evening. The doors will be open to media, key Leica customers and influential members of the photography community. Leica’s world-renowned collection of product offerings will be on display and we’re revealing the Leica D-Lux 6 ‘Edition by G-Star RAW.’ It’s going to be an exciting launch event. We have a full schedule of events planned from Friday, June 21 – Sunday, June 23. The official hashtag for the grand opening is #LeicaStoreLA.

Photography enthusiasts and Leica owners will have the chance to try out both the new Leica X Vario and M-Systems on walking tours held by Leica Akademie. Additionally, we will have lectures by three fantastic photographers: Mary Ellen Mark, Craig Semetko and Jeff Johnson. Of course, everyone should be aware that these events have limited space and it’s sure to go fast so if they are interested in attending a particular event, they should send an email to RSVP@leicacamerausa.com.

Q: What can you reveal about the Leica D-Lux 6 ‘Edition by G-Star RAW?’

A: This limited special edition of the Leica D-Lux 6 compact camera is a collaboration between Leica Camera and G-Star, the Dutch denim label. The camera has the same specifications of the Leica D-Lux 6, but it also has the G-Star RAW extraordinary design. Anyone into fashion is sure to be impressed by the edgy style and class embodied by the Leica D-Lux 6 ‘Edition by G-Star RAW.’

Q: Can you tell us about the first photography exhibition in the gallery?

A: We will be displaying a photography exhibition by Mary Ellen Mark, Seal, the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, and Yariv Milchan, Hollywood-bred fashion photographer and film producer.

We are very excited that we will also have the “Fake Leica,” a one of a kind unforgettable sculpture of enormous dimensions by renowned Chinese artist Liao Yibai for the opening.

Q: What’s the story and idea behind the “Fake Leica” sculpture?

A: Duncan Meeder, owner of the Dutch Leica Boutique, initiated this project and Yibai Liao is the artist behind it.  The “Fake Leica” will be the first thing that people will see as they enter the Store. It’s huge, weighing in around 770 pounds, and makes a great first impression. I’m grateful it was sent here. The sculpture is big, beautiful and unique just like the new Leica Store and Gallery L.A.

Q: What can customers expect when they walk into the Leica Store L.A.?

AWe invite everyone to experience and enjoy the world of Leica photography in an atmosphere that is different from the average camera store.

We want this to be a destination spot where we demonstrate all aspects of the brand, not just the product. I think all of our existing and potential customer groups ranging from established photographers to young and aspiring artists that embrace the legacy that is Leica will enjoy the space. Because the space lends itself to exhibiting works of art, both L.A. residents and tourists alike will enjoy spending time in the store and the gallery.

When guests first walk into the store, they’ll notice the huge “Fake Leica” sculpture. Then they will see a space that was created to celebrate photography and inspire our customers.

The entire range of Leica products will be available at the Store. There is also the gallery where we’ll have exhibitions, a Leica library, a selection of collectable photo books curated by Martin Parr and a printing service. We even have an outdoor lounge for people to relax and enjoy a conversation or photo book.

Q: What can photographers who shoot or are interested in the S-System anticipate from the L.A. store?

A: Our West Coast S-System expert will be available for appointments in the Store. All available S products will be on display and we are working on establishing a rental service for Leica gear as well. In addition we have the room to hold workshops and display large format prints that demonstrate the quality level the S-System is capable of.

Q: Will the store offer Leica Akademie workshops?

A: Yes, we will host Leica Akademie classes along with workshops, host lectures and book signings every month. There will also be gallery openings and international product launches. The Leica Store and Gallery L.A. will become a major hub in the world of Leica and photography.

Q: Why is it important for Leica to continually expand their territory into the retail market?

A: There are two main reasons for us. First, it is important to create more opportunities for photographers of all levels to be able to experience the entire world of Leica. These spaces allow enthusiasts and professionals alike to be inspired by the art created by outstanding Leica photographers and to be able to handle our products in person and speak with definitive experts on Leica. One of the cornerstones of the Leica name is the superior build quality and where better to experience it than a store dedicated to only Leica products and the experience of owning one. Second, these Leica Stores and Galleries help us to build the brand further and stimulate sales not only in the Stores themselves but everywhere in the world. I would say that every Leica dealer benefits from the investment that Leica is making into these Stores.

Q: Does Leica have any future retail plans that you can share with us?

A: We are looking into more locations across the U.S. that we can open with partners or by ourselves. Naturally we look at all major cities first.

Q: Are there any specific future exhibits or plans for the gallery? Do you plan on selling the works that are exhibited?

A: We already have some fantastic exhibitions in the works this year. Going hand in hand with the amazing location in West Hollywood, we believe this year may be the year of music and entertainment. The Leica Gallery L.A. will almost be a separate entity within the Leica Store L.A. With the help of our knowledgeable gallery manager Annie Seaton, any photographer exhibiting work will have the opportunity to sell their artwork.

Q: This is the first time Mary Ellen Mark has put together this kind of body of work, correct? Can you tell us how this exhibit came about?

We have always had a wonderful relationship with Mary Ellen Mark. From her earliest work to her most recent photographic projects, she has consistently exemplified the beauty and quality that Leica  products can do in the hands of an artist. After many discussions, we decided what better way to launch a new store than to put together a collection of images that spans her whole career. We carefully curated a large selection of her work, had large beautiful darkroom prints created and framed. This is the first time a retrospective of her Leica work is being shown and we have plans for her exhibition to travel.

Q: Can you provide some more details on the Leica Library curated by Martin Parr? What are your specific goals and how do you hope to achieve them?

A: When we began the initial plans for the Leica Store L.A., we knew that along with a space to exhibit our line of products and a space to exhibit beautiful images shot with Leicas, it only made sense to create the ultimate destination for the must-buy photo books. Martin Parr has always been known as a definitive authority on the art of the photo book, so he was a natural fit to curate a selection of books for this store. As we move forward, this will be a great opportunity for the store to serve as a space for both book launches and signings.

Q: What can you tell us about the printing service area? Will there be workshops for people to learn about printing images?

A: A section of the first floor will be a dedicated to the art of the photographic print and will showcase outstanding examples of work. Just like everything else that we offer in the store and the gallery, we are trying to inspire our customers while at the same time help them enjoy their photography more and more. Along with the opportunity to experience the superior image quality from Leica products in print form, we are planning to offer a wide range of workshops and Akadamie events which will cover the entire photographic workflow from the concept all the way to a finished print.

Thank you for your time, Roland!

- Leica Internet Team

For more information on the opening events, click here. The official hashtag for all of the grand opening events is #LeicaStoreLA.