By  on February 10, 2005

NEW YORK — While Barneys New York, Tiffany & Co. and Coach have opened shops in Tokyo, Japanese retailers have been slow to reciprocate. Aside from Takashimaya, few Japanese retail concepts have arrived on these shores.

That may be changing. In December, Nigo, the Japanese designer of A Bathing Ape, opened a BAPE store on Greene Street in SoHo.

Now Via Bus Stop, which has variously been called a mini department store and a Japanese Barneys New York (although Barneys New York exists in Japan), is opening its flagship today at 172 Mercer Street. The 2,700-square-foot store on the corner of East Houston Street offers women’s wear, handbags and accessories. A 2,700-square-foot basement devoted to men’s apparel will be unveiled later this year.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Onward Kashiyama, Via Bus Stop features exclusive designs by Viktor & Rolf, Hussein Chalayan, Bernhard Willhelm, Anne Valerie Hash, Easton Pearson, Antonio Berardi, Trosman, Johanna Ho, Gardem and Lara Bohinc.

The store’s unique merchandise comes from collections it produces for the Japanese market for Chalayan, Willhelm, Trosman, Pearson and Hash, as well as Seta Ichiro and Vaughan Alexander.

Bus Stop Co. Ltd., which was founded in 1994, operates 17 freestanding stores throughout Japan as well as corners in department stores. There are also Via Bus Stop Jeans and Via Bus Stop Accessory Corner stores.

Akira Okuda, the company’s president, has long been influential in the Japanese market, having represented  designers such as Helmut Lang, Martine Sitbon, Jean Colonna and Alexander McQueen at retail.

The decision to open a store here was made quickly, said Vaughan Alexander, the multiple-hat-wearing director of Via Bus Stop in SoHo. In addition to designing an eponymous label, Alexander collaborated with Massimiliano Locatelli of CLS Architects in Milan on the new store’s design.

“It all happened within two months,” he explained. “Mr. Okuda is a very decisive man.”

The company plans to open flagships in Paris and Milan later this year, Alexander added.

SoHo continues to recover following the disruption in business caused by 9/11. The real estate market, which was anemic for several years, is only now heating up. And while multilabel stores such as Kirna Zabête and Bagutta do well, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent and Ermenegildo Zegna signed leases but either occupied their spaces briefly or never moved in. H. Stern, which was constructing a building on the corner of Mercer and Prince Streets, never opened. Ferragamo is in the process of leasing its SoHo store.The area received a major shot in the arm last spring when Bloomingdale’s opened a 70,000-square-foot unit on Broadway. The six-floor store has exceeded the company’s expectations since its opening. Reportedly, the company expects first-year volume at the SoHo store to exceed $50 million compared with a preopening forecast of $45 million; productivity is close to $600 in sales per square foot compared with the $500 per square foot initially forecast.

And more retailers are arriving in the neighborhood. Burton Snowboards signed a 10-year lease for a 4,600-square-foot flagship at 106 Spring Street, at the corner of Spring and Mercer. Rents in that part of SoHo are roughly $200 a square foot. The Vermont-based “pure” snowboarding company sells equipment and apparel. CB Richard Ellis Inc. represented Burton and Newmark Retail represented the landlord, a residential co-op.

With the sounds of construction in the background, Vaughan said Wednesday that the store will open on schedule. “Will it be ready?” he said. “Yeah, yeah. The show always goes on.”

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