By  on March 10, 2005

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Seeking to tap into the hot contemporary market, Barneys Co-op is opening its second mall-based store on Thursday — at Orange County’s South Coast Plaza shopping center here — and that may be just the start.

Howard Socol, chairman and chief executive officer of Barneys New York, is in a California state of mind. He said the company is scouting locations to expand its Co-op format in the state.

“We are looking for more sites not just in Southern California, but in California [generally],” said Socol, who swooped into the store Tuesday after returning from Paris. “This trip is to look at other possible locations as well as to open South Coast.”

The retailer has looked for Co-op space at or near the Third Street Promenade shopping area in Santa Monica, said people familiar with real estate in Los Angeles.

Barneys, acquired by the Jones Apparel Group last November for $397.3 million, is on an expansion tear. The South Coast Plaza Co-op store is the second outpost of Barneys’ contemporary concept to open this year. Barneys launched a 7,000-square-foot Co-op in February at Phipps Plaza, a luxury mall in Atlanta’s Buckhead district. A Chicago outpost is to bow March 24 and a fourth is planned for fall, but a location has not been announced. Barneys has three freestanding Co-ops in New York and one in Miami Beach’s South Beach.

Socol, dressed in caramel-colored linen pants and a light blue button-down shirt, didn’t simply pop into the store for the requisite ceo tour. He spent the day with his senior staff and design team to work out placement of everything from beauty products and clothes to accessories.

So, what did he think of the space?

“I’m always concerned that it doesn’t look big enough,” Socol said of the 8,600-square-foot store, which houses women’s and men’s apparel. “But I’m very pleased with the look we have in the store. It’s understated. It’s us.”

The location, between Façonnable and Lacoste, has a loft-like New York vibe. The design is similar to other Co-ops, which all have a signature of industrial concrete floors, trapeze bars for clothes displays, counters with built-in, vintage-style refrigerator doors and artfully placed aqua mannequins.Maria LoBello, vice president of Co-op, described the store concept — with the input of other staff members who chimed in — as “edgy, chic and always downtown, even when we’re uptown.”

However, the merchandise at each store is adjusted to fit the region and customer, from brand-savvy teens to soccer moms who make a point of looking as good as their kids, she said. 

“This location is different in the sense that we want to reflect the California lifestyle, but stay true to the Co-op concept,” LoBello said, noting that the South Beach store sells sexier, more revealing clothes and swimsuits than those offered at the California location.

In addition to lines such as Theory, Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg and Rebecca Taylor, the store is heavy on Los Angeles-based lines, including Loy and Ford, Joie, Juicy Couture, Splendid and Ella Moss. There are also a few Orange County lines like Trovata and Rolland Berry in the men’s wear section.

Socol said he anticipates that South Coast Plaza will generate high sales volume on a par with the Co-op on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, though he declined to give a figure.

“It’s one of the great malls in California and we’re excited to be going into great places with great fashion and great customers,” Socol said of South Coast Plaza, which is home to Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Ralph Lauren and Burberry, among others. “It’s a natural fit for us.”

“The two hottest businesses right now are the luxury and contemporary business,” Socol said. “And we’re excited that we have a mix of concepts, strong denim and vendors like Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Juicy Couture and other small innovators.”

While luxury labels are strongly represented at the center, the contemporary category is just beginning to grow and specialty retailer Ron Herman — Barneys’ upstairs neighbor — was among the first.  

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