By  on October 16, 2006

American Rag Cie, the Los Angeles-based retailer known for its eclectic mix of vintage and hip designer apparel, has launched a 13,500-square-foot flagship at the open-air Fashion Island shopping center in Newport Beach, Calif.

The opening is being followed this month by the full-scale debut of its denim and accessories concept, World Denim Bar, next to the company's 8,000-square-foot Los Angeles store. The Fashion Island flagship opened with a scaled-down version of the denim concept.

The retailer moved into a space formerly occupied by Barnes & Noble, which relocated to a larger store within the mall in Orange County, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles.

"Newport Beach is one of the wealthiest areas in California," said Mark Werts, chief executive officer and founder of American Rag Cie. "It used to be that Orange County wasn't a very worldly place, and that's our clientele — worldly. Now we have a lot of O.C. customers who drive up to L.A. to the store."

The shopping center's aesthetics were another draw. "Fashion Island is outdoors, and we're more urban — not really into the whole mall thing," Werts said. "The store had a drop ceiling, and we took it out. Now it's 30 feet tall…it looks like a cathedral."

The unit features a 94-seat, European-style restaurant, Café Beau Soliel. Seating spills out onto the patio in front of the store. Maison, American Rag's home decor division, has its own corner.

Although the denim bar is more a shop-in-shop at the Fashion Island store, in the Los Angeles unit it has the feel of a stand-alone.

The concept: a one-stop shop for premium denim labels such as Ksubi, G-Star, Goldsign, AG, Taverniti So, Nudie, Joe's Jeans, Chip & Pepper, Great China Wall, J. Lindeberg, Cheap Monday and Capital. Prices range from $65 for skinny-fit Cheap Monday models to just over $300 for looks from Ksubi.

"We look at this as a partnership and showcase store," Werts said. "We feel that this concept is the right thing to do at the right time."

An all-denim specialty store first surfaced this year in Los Angeles with retailer Neal Gaydos' Jeany stores.World Denim Bar customers will access the 5,000-square-foot space from the Los Angeles American Rag store. Werts hopes to eventually roll out freestanding locations.

In keeping with American Rag's Provencal-cum-Moroccan décor, the denim bar will feature a huge globe in its front window, prints of old maps on the walls and Murano glass fixtures. Factor in a stuffed bison, along with old kitchen counters bought in southern France that will make up the bar itself. "Venetian Murano glass lights mounted on termite-bitten wood — that pretty much sums up the look," Werts said.

The bar will feature a handful of store-in-stores. "Levi's will occupy about 30 percent of the space," Werts said.

Denim brands J Brand and Evisu are also scheduled to build their own displays.

Werts said the list of brands is likely to "change and evolve" and added that the store may eventually integrate high-end designer names such as Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, Burberry and Yves Saint Laurent.

Asked if he's worried about the softening of the denim category, Werts said, "Since 1970, when I got into retail, I've never had a bad denim year….Denim evolves."

A tailoring booth will offer custom fittings, distressing and stitch work, among other customizations. "You can bring your Levi's and open a book and pick which wash you want," Werts said.

The Los Angeles bar will also offer a Bodymetrics machine, a walk-in capsule that for $30 takes 200 different measurements of the body. "You get a disc with all you measurements, then you can virtually try on clothes online — at J. Crew or wherever," Werts said.

He expects sales to go up around 35 percent in the Los Angeles store with the addition of the World Denim Bar.

Wertz, 60, opened the first American Rag Cie as an all-vintage store in Los Angeles in 1984. The privately owned company employs around 70 people in its corporate ranks.

Outside Southern California, American Rag operates a flagship in San Francisco and nine locations in Japan, in partnership with Tokyo-based wholesale distribution firm Sazaby Inc. The company will debut at the East Village in Las Vegas, a shopping district modeled after New York's East Village, in 2008. A tenth Japanese store is to launch this fall in Fukuoka.

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