BOSTON — The Achilles Project is a retail gamble in a gentrifying South Boston neighborhood. It's also the debut of a pair of confident young entrepreneurs.
Co-owners Michael Krupp, 30, and Shaka Ramsay, 31, have invested more than $1 million of backers' money to transform 9,500 square feet in the Fort Point enclave into a loft-modern hot spot encompassing fashion and food. Instead of traditional racks, the duo created a gallery filled with movable, ceiling-suspended "pods" holding clothes. The store's restaurant-lounge, Persephone, sits in the back, offering Niman Ranch rib eye and pomegranate cocktails.
The broad range of goods focus on high-concept niche labels and the in-house restaurant with a marquee chef — James Beard Foundation Award nominee Michael Leviton — evokes Louis Boston, the city's grande dame specialty store.
"I wouldn't say I was inspired by Louis, but I would say Colette [Paris]," said Ramsay, who does all the buying for Achilles, 45 labels running from briefcases to bikinis. "I love the way they merchandise."
The partners met as college students — Krupp attended Boston University, Ramsay went to Berklee College of Music — working in a local music shop. The name, Achilles, reflects the pair's desire to find their customers' weaknesses — whether fashion, wine, art (everything on the walls is for sale) or even gaming. In the evening, flat-screen monitors switch from fashion runways to Xbox and Wii.
Since opening in February, sales are $450 a square foot despite the wobbly economy. The space has become popular for private parties, hosted by Puma, beauty brand Fresh and others.
In the evening, the clothing pods are locked together, but merchandise is lit and visible. Krupp is developing an electronic "menu" tablet so restaurant patrons can view and request anything from the store even after the pods are locked for the night.
"We always want to stimulate a conversation about the clothes," Krupp said. "We want people to feel comfortable in both spaces, in taking a drink over to look at something."
Ramsay, who worked at Ralph Lauren on Newbury Street here, is exacting about the aesthetics of the clothes.Amid lots of summer neutrals, such as ivory, camel and black, he's hung splashes of color, like a $995 Josh Groot gray dress with a rainbow of sequins on the shoulder. Brand items aren't always grouped together as in most stores. Instead, complementary pieces approximate a wardrobe: the $429 Neal Sperling little black party dress next to an office-appropriate Wayne blazer, $1,475.
Aside from a single piece of each item on display, inventory is kept in the stockroom. After complaints from some customers that the clothes looked dauntingly tiny, Ramsay said he'll display a size 4 instead of a 2.
Ramsay has a keen eye for beautifully tailored jackets, such as a $343 cobalt motorcycle jacket with intricate shoulder stitching by Surface to Air Paris. Opening Ceremony, Filippa K, Alexander McQueen McQ and Shipley & Halmos are doing well. Next season, he'll have Martin Margiela's MM6 and will add more handbags and shoes. Women's goods are generating 65 percent of clothing sales.
Persephone has been an engine for the retail effort, bringing in affluent suburbanites and city denizens eager to try chef Leviton. The area will see more traffic this summer when FP3, a high-end residence and restaurant complex, opens.
"We are the first retailer to open down here in five or six years," Krupp said. "Since we signed our lease, retail rents have doubled."
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