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Trovata Sets New Course

Trovata is sailing into a new phase, launching its first retail store here after the breakup of the four founders of the contemporary brand.

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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Trovata is sailing into a new phase, launching its first retail store here after the breakup of the four founders of the contemporary brand.

President and creative director John Whitledge has transformed Trovata’s former headquarters into a 900-square-foot retail space and moved the offices a five-minute boat ride — or short bike trip — across the harbor. Whitledge, 27, who exudes California casual from his untamed mop of hair down to his Vans, steered a boat last week from the private dock behind the new offices to the store, which opened Saturday.

The store provides Whitledge with a vehicle to communicate his vision of the brand that was conceived in a college dorm and started in 2002.

“A lot of it [retailing] comes down to the whole experience,” he said. “It is not just picking up a piece of clothing and saying, ‘Oh, this looks great.’ It is about really coming into a space and enjoying more of the lifestyle first and then realizing, ‘Oh, this is great clothing as well.’ At the beginning, it wasn’t about being a fashion label. It was about being a lifestyle label that sold clothing and that was the reason for being here in Newport Beach….We lost that focus.”

With the departure of his three original partners — Jeff Halmos, Sam Shipley and Josia Lamberto-Egan — the store is Whitledge’s answer to how Trovata, heralded by the design community in 2005 with the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award, is channeling its energy going forward.

Citing creative differences, Halmos and Shipley left officially in January and are establishing their own contemporary collection, Shipley & Halmos, for spring. Lamberto-Egan departed in the middle of last year to move to Seattle to settle with his partner, Maria Matijasevic.

The new retail space, across the street from a coffeehouse that has often served as Trovata’s conference room, at first glance hardly looks like a clothing shop. The store’s exterior is made of corrugated metal brushed with creamy white paint. It is rimmed with windows filled with found objects — Trovata means “found” in Italian. White flowers on sale crowd the entrance.

“One of the things I wanted to do was really make it a community spot and hangout first and have that as a place that sells clothing rather than a clothing store that is a community spot,” Whitledge said.

The interior is the physical embodiment of Trovata’s West Coast dude meets East Coast snob aesthetic. Crown moldings that separate a dressing room — constructed from salvaged lumberyard fence post — from the floor’s raw walnut plants represent structured society. Odes to a more relaxed existence include galvanized piping used as racks, an industrial ceiling and the tent at the rear of the store on which Sixties and Seventies-era films are projected. The East-West interplay is also suggested in the shopping bags with grosgrain ribbon handles and burlap bodies.

The clothes, hung on old hangers from shops and hotels, are primarily from Trovata’s fall collection and are equal parts men’s and women’s. Blazers hang next to boardshorts, and cashmere cable-knit sweater dresses next to billowy silk showstoppers. Prices range from $185 for a cotton tunic to around $500 for a double-faced wool coat.

The apparel is interspersed among books, magazines, knick-knacks and pictures. On the drafting table turned display at the front of the store, for example, there’s a cardigan, an Andy Warhol text, a pair of shoes and a Polaroid camera. The cash register, situated at a bar with three stools, is hidden behind books and candles. Above it sits a case with Super-8 cameras, which Whitledge has collected since he was a teenager.

“You really have to plan out what you want to capture,” he said of Super-8 footage. “[With digital,] you just film for the sake of filming.” Designed in-house, the Trovata store is the retailing equivalent of Super-8. Each item is carefully selected. “It is about carrying things you don’t get anywhere else,” Whitledge said. “What is really important to us is the attention to detail.”

Trovata has more stores in the works, and Whitledge said subsequent locations could be in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Sydney, London and Los Angeles. He declined to project first-year sales for the Newport Beach unit or for the company this year, and would not comment on Trovata’s ownership structure. His former partners are said to retain shares.

“We feel that there is actually a tremendous opportunity to do volume out here,” he said. “At the same time, it is really about getting the experience right and making sure it is the foundation of the brand. We will only grow to the point where we feel we can keep offering that. In five years, we could have 30 stores around the world, we could have 50, we could have 10 or just five, but I think you would definitely see most likely at least five.”

While gliding through the Newport Beach harbor, catchy names of boats along the shore stand out. One of them is called “Phase Two” and another is “Mr. Lucky,” which Whitledge pointed out is among his favorites.

“John is the luckiest person on earth,” said April Vitkus, Trovata’s director of sales.

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