It wasn’t a love of luxury shopping that brought Eric Le Goff over 20 years ago from Paris to New York, where he became a retail broker representing high-end goods purveyors including LVMH, the parent of Louis Vuitton, Dior and Tiffany.
He had wanted to go to the United States for some time. He grew up in the Paris suburb of Versailles, and joined the small Paris operation of Cushman & Wakefield after getting an undergraduate law degree specializing in commercial real estate. Le Goff, 50, took the position rather than at a major French brokerage so he could move to New York, the largest U.S. commercial real estate market.
The job with an international firm like Cushman “would give me the means to go to the United States,” Le Goff said in an interview with CoStar News. “I’m a Sagittarius. I love to travel. I’m curious by nature. I’ll explore. I want to build this interesting resume for myself.”
That decision worked out well for Le Goff, who spent more than 25 years at Cushman, at one point being honored for the most ingenious retail deal of the year. But last month, he left to become vice chairman and head of luxury at Mona, a startup brokerage founded by his former Cushman colleagues Brandon Singer and Michael Cody. Mona is backed by developer RFR Holding, whose portfolio includes the iconic Chrysler Building and the Seagram Building in midtown Manhattan.
“I was going to make this move now or stay [at Cushman] for the rest of my career,” Le Goff said.
When he started at Cushman in Paris, Le Goff had worked with and represented local retail landlords. Three years into doing that, Le Goff said, he knew he could do better. He requested a transfer and traveled to New York for an interview before eventually moving in 2001.
But the question he pondered upon relocating was, what would be a good move for a Frenchman with an accent and no connections in a city where his go-to landlord contacts back home would no longer be handy?
“I sat at this desk” in my New York office, Le Goff said, and thought, “How can I be useful?”
The answer: Leverage his multicultural background.
“Let me pivot and direct myself to European brands,” Le Goff said, explaining his thought process. “I understand how they approach things. With my European background, it seems natural to knock on the door of European brands that were planning expansion to New York.”
Le Goff said he knew fast-fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M were “already taken over by big brokers,” and the chances of him inking a large 20,000-square-foot deal just a few years out of college in New York were likely slim. So Le Goff, who said he wasn’t a luxury shopper and didn’t know anything about designer brands, decided he would target the upscale retail space instead.
After landing his first deal with a French designer brand on Mulberry Street in the Nolita neighborhood just months into his New York career, Le Goff decided to focus on the Madison Avenue luxury shopping corridor on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The tony district was “the entry to the United States” for most luxury brands at the time, he said.
To understand the market, he walked up and down the stretch from 57th Street to 79th Street every day for months and made cold calls to landlords. He also started a survey to make a book with transactions completed in the area.
Landlords “would hang up the phone,” Le Goff said. “I knew that wasn’t personal. I asked 88 questions. I always said, ‘It’s not for me, it’s for the clients. Don’t hang up the phone.’ If you have an accent, you have to turn that to an advantage. People would say, ‘You are funny.’”
That determination, coupled with the fact New York’s luxury retail market was hard hit after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, helped him create relationships with landlords who were open to sharing information. He often flew back to Paris to personally share some of his intelligence with luxury retail brands there.
“Sometimes it would take a year before [brands] pulled the trigger,” he said. “It took me three years to get my head above the water. It’s a long process.”
His efforts paid off and led him to be the rainmaker behind such major deals as the opening of the first U.S. standalone store of French luxury leather goods label Goyard at 20 E. 63rd St. in 2014.
He also helped Italian luxury label Bottega Veneta relocate its flagship store from Fifth Avenue to a 24,000-square-foot space at 740 Madison Ave. in 2015 that he said involved assembling three townhouse properties. That transaction, which won the Real Estate Board of New York’s most ingenious deal of the year, came after then-U.S. head of the luxury label, someone whom Le Goff had known in the past, reached out.
“The friends you met started moving up the ladder,” he said. “This business is relationship driven. When they move up, they’ll call you.”
Other luxury houses and brands Le Goff has represented or advised also include Kering, Richemont, Chopard, Prada, Jimmy Choo and Longchamp. He represented LVMH in its acquisition of 743 Fifth Ave., which later became the flagship for LVMH’s watch brand, Hublot.
The connections and trust he gradually built began to translate to brands reaching out for his help when they sought to expand in other markets, especially when decision-makers for these luxury labels in the market most often were based in New York, he said.
For instance, he helped Prada open a 10,000-square-foot store in Vancouver, British Columbia, that he said previously housed a dollar store. He also helped Manhattan’s upscale restaurant Le Bilboquet open a location in Palm Beach, Florida, after first serving as the French restaurant’s customer and becoming friends with the owner.
Goyard’s Manhattan store opening also led to subsequent deals to help it open stores in San Francisco and Beverly Hills, California.
“After you fix the problem [for a brand] in New York, they said, ‘I have major issues in Miami. What’s your thought?'” he said. “The key quality of a broker is problem solving. I tell young brokers, ‘You have to listen [and push] the door.’”
While not starting out as a luxury shopper, Le Goff has become one. He counts among his most prized collections a Patek Philippe Calatrava 5120G luxury watch. He credits his parents for “forcing” him to go to museums while growing up in Versailles. This helped him develop an appreciation for art and craftsmanship that “educates your eyes, your ears and your senses,” Le Goff said.
When Le Goff considered whether to leave Cushman, it wasn’t something he took lightly, he said.
The conversations with Mona, which approached him, took months. “It was very difficult to make that decision. … I wanted to make the move and start fresh.”
The other option could have been to move in-house with a luxury company and on the real estate side, Le Goff said, but “I’m a dealmaker at the core. That goes with risks. … I wanted to be at a firm that’s taking a fresh look at how things are doing with more innovation and technology.”
At Mona, Singer, who serves as the brokerage’s CEO, said in a statement the addition of Le Goff is putting the firm “in another echelon in terms of the type of expertise” it can provide.
As for New York’s luxury market, which also had been hard hit with a spate of store closings after the start of the pandemic, Le Goff said, demand “came back faster than we thought. I’ve seen cycles. It’s coming back.”
He pointed to the fully leased luxury retail spaces on Madison Avenue as proof. “I’m very bullish for premium luxury in Manhattan. It’s driven by tourism and spending power of people who live here.”