By  on November 6, 2008

Miami is turning into the Manhattan transfer.

Boutiques based in New York, such as Big Drop, Curve and Jack Menashe, are heading south. Big Drop last month opened its first boutique outside Manhattan in Miami Beach’s Gansevoort South Hotel. Co-owner Shy Iland said he is concerned about the economy, but feels good about his Miami presence.

“New York sales are down about 8 to 10 percent, but Miami’s are surprisingly high, even exceeding our initial projections,” he said. “New York customers are more hesitant and buying only what they need, like cold-weather items like sweaters and coats. We’ve got a tight buying team who’s looking for items around $200 or less, and monitoring sales every day. We buy more of what’s selling and less of what isn’t. I doubt New Yorkers will cut back on Miami trips because it gets freezing cold there, and it’s a short travel time.”

As for the new location, Iland said he likes the clientele the hotel attracts as well as new neighbors such as David Barton Gym and Spa.

“The gym expects 1,500 visitors a day during season,” said Iland, whose sales have already spiked from the gym’s traffic. “We’re seeing multiple purchases despite the economy.”

Customers have been gravitating toward either well-known designer brand names or well-priced items such as Morphine Generation’s printed, burnt-out T-shirts for $92, Frenzii’s printed maxidresses for $97, and Kova & T’s leatherlike leggings for $115. London-based Orion’s blouson cardigans and minidresses in colorful novelty prints retailing for around $200 or less sell well, according to Iland. Displayed among pareos and bikinis are L.A.M.B.’s shoes averaging $335, Ash’s buckled sneakers for $168, and Magnes Sisters’s oversized, fold-over clutches and totes in dark honey leather for $400. Statement jewelry includes a chunky, mixed-media choker by Tuleste Market for $130.

“Miami calls for easy things people can throw on for day to night,” said Iland, who also carries men’s wear from the same women’s denim and diffusion lines like Ksubi and McQ.

Unisex dressing rooms have mirrored walls and saloon doors of neon pink and yellow Plexiglas emblazoned with the store’s signature spiraling black graphics. The 2,500-square-foot space is highlighted by the 10 globe lights hanging from the high ceiling, painted in gradation from apple green to buttercup yellow.

Iland projects first-year sales of $2 million.

On its way into the same hotel is another Manhattan-based shop, Curve. Owner Nevena Borissova said she plans to open in December. Her 1,500-square-foot store will combine some Miami sensibility in Art Deco and architectural accents with beach-inspired materials like shell, burlap and bleached wood.

“We didn’t want to have the same cold, contemporary design as other retailers,” she said, also exchanging the region’s typically bright merchandise for light neutrals and muted colors. “I’m taking a very different approach here with attention to textures, details and classics rather than bold color and trends.”

But already owning two stores in the New York metropolitan area, she admits that she isn’t immune to the weak economy.

“Our New York and Los Angeles sales are down about 7 percent, which is a lot better than what I hear about other retailers,” she said. “Many stores aren’t doing well [but] if you have the right merchandise, women will always figure out a way to spend. I’m ordering closer to season for all my boutiques, I saved much of my spring open-to-buy, because we don’t know what’s going to happen one month to the next.”

Important vendors for Curve are Balmain, Burberry Prorsum and Isabel Marant, which retails between $250 and $900. She also commissioned exclusives including Preen’s Miami-specific colors and styles like a one-shoulder “bondage” dress in red and Los Angeles-based Suh-Tahn’s tropical pieces, like a cotton voile vest trimmed in leather, that retail for approximately $600. Givenchy shoes, a Kiki de Montparnasse shop-in-shop and small men’s and children’s departments complete the assortment. Borissova expects first-year sales of $1.5 million.

Another Manhattan retailer, Jack Menashe, is planning to close his Lounge shop in Manhattan’s SoHo in March, but he also expects to open a 6,000-square-foot store in the Aventura Mall here this month. Menashe said he chose to relocate due to leasing problems with the Broadway space and New York’s saturation with premium denim and contemporary stores. To accommodate Aventura’s wealthy, international demographics, direction will shift to more European, and resort- and designer-driven merchandise.

Menashe said he is happy to be moving south when business in New York hasn’t been that great.

“In both New York and Miami, we’ve lowered inventory about 20 percent,” he said. “Retailers really have to be on the ball more than ever. It may be one of the worst times to open a store, and it will be challenging, but I’m not concerned people won’t travel to Florida. They’ll still come down.”

The new store will house 30 women’s vendors, which make up a quarter of inventory, including Jil Sander, Balmain, Alexander McQueen and Elizabeth and James. The store will also have denim from Rick Owens, Free City casualwear, Anya Hindmarch and Be & D bags, and shoes from Y-3 and Loeffler Randall.

“This market’s consumer is savvy. She wants aspirational and affordable brands,” he said, predicting first-year sales of more than $3 million.

Located next to Nordstrom in the center’s new upscale wing, the space has three entrances including two street side with valet parking. A home section, cafe and newsstand with international newspapers and 50 fashion magazine titles create a destination appeal similar to Fred Segal in Los Angeles. Sheer curtains, in the same yellow gold as the store’s new branding, vintage furniture and a birdcage with parrots liven up the decor’s glossy white floor and beech wood veneers.

“I’m still interested in more locations. But everything we do has to be a grand slam or nothing,” he said.

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