LOS ANGELES — C. Wonder has made its first West Coast stop as it aims to become an international retailer.
The whimsical apparel, accessories and home concept by Christopher Burch that launched in Manhattan’s SoHo almost a year ago opened a 4,900-square-foot store last week at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, Calif. The store will be a crucial test of C. Wonder’s performance outside of New York and New Jersey, where it currently has all of its four permanent stores.
“We believe this is a global brand. Our approach to everything is about being global and, certainly, we are a national brand, so we had to be on the West Coast,” said C. Wonder president Amy Shecter. She outlined that C. Wonder’s U.S. expansion plans call for an additional five permanent stores and one pop-up unit this year, and an additional 15 permanent stores and an as-yet-undetermined number of pop-up shops next year. C. Wonder is expected to break into international markets in 2013 or 2014.
Shecter indicated C. Wonder’s SoHo store, which she said is “very much ahead of target,” has provided confidence for future growth. C. Wonder’s biggest store, at 8,000 square feet, will open in September at the Time Warner Center in New York. Stores are also slated for Tysons Corner in Fairfax, Va., and Lenox Square in Atlanta in the fall. C. Wonder stores mostly run from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet.
Although Burch wouldn’t discuss C. Wonder’s revenues, he commented, “It is going much better than we expected. It has opened much faster, and it has tremendous momentum and tremendous customer acceptance. Other concepts that I have worked on have had a tendency to slowly build.”
Burch predicted C. Wonder would eventually have 140 stores in the U.S. and 300 globally. “I don’t believe in building brands to 1,000 stores, 2,000 stores. I believe in keeping it limited and exclusive around the country and world,” he said. To realize those larger door counts, he continued, “We build other platforms and other brands. We want to be very, very careful about where we go and how we do it.”
In two years, Burch’s venture capital firm, J. Christopher Capital, will have rolled out nine brands. Among the firm’s many brands are Monika Chiang, the edgy contemporary line that Burch said “started off slowly as a lot of brands do, but over time is building”; Electric Love Army with Kelly Cutrone that’s scheduled to make its New York retail debut in the fall, and Poppin, an office supplies resource that Burch placed in between Office Max and Staples.
Asked how he juggles the management of his burgeoning retail portfolio, Burch said, “In C. Wonder, I do a lot of the merchandising and design. In each brand, I have a different role. The most important thing is to hire good people.…The day-to-day operations and running of the businesses, our presidents handle that, [but] we all have to have the same point of view on everything.”
Burch said the surprise of C. Wonder so far has been the resonance of its apparel, and the retailer has responded by increasing the offering. Although apparel was as little as 6 percent of the assortment when C. Wonder started, it has risen to more than 30 percent. Breaking down C. Wonder’s sales, Shecter estimated that home constitutes 20 percent, accessories 20 percent and apparel 40 percent, with other categories, such as whimsical one-offs, making up the rest. Within apparel, Jon Zeiders, vice president of merchandising for C. Wonder, pointed to knits, wovens and denim as particularly strong categories.
Across the merchandise, personalization has become a sales driver, with 30 to 35 percent of C. Wonder purchases involving some sort of personalization, according to Shecter. Personalization can be as simple as customers picking up $48 enamel cuffs with initials on them or as complex as covering jeans with various embroidered decals. Customers pay $10 on top of the price of an item to personalize it, and it takes two to four days to finish the personalization. “Making it yours is something we believe is very much a part of 21st century retailing,” said Shecter.
Burch, Zeiders and Shecter emphasized that the affordability of the merchandise — the average price at C. Wonder is $40 — has been a key factor in the retailer’s appeal. Zeiders said, “You will always find something in your budget. We make sure we have something in every tier of pricing.” Shecter chimed in, “Part of our mission is to be value priced. It doesn’t mean we are the least expensive.”
Burch said that mission has led to customers buying two to four items in a typical purchase. He reasoned they feel comfortable getting multiple items because of C. Wonder’s relaxed return policy that provides refunds for merchandise that is unused with no questions asked.
C. Wonder’s store design revolves around a collection of rooms, often unique from store to store, meant to evoke different geographic locations. In the Fashion Island store, there are five rooms, including an English countryside room bathed in light yellow, a Morocco-themed room with Moroccan-inspired lamps and benches, an American Dream room containing what Shecter described as “every women’s ideal kitchen” and a Mexican Hacienda room with a brightly printed rug to reinforce C. Wonder’s focus on prints.
Due to Burch’s extensive manufacturing infrastructure in China, Shecter said the cost of building C. Wonder stores for another retailer would “probably be double what we pay.” Burch wouldn’t divulge how much he is investing in C. Wonder’s stores, but said every one of his firm’s brands “has a huge investment involved. That investment is done all by me. Each brand has different parameters. Some of our brands will have much larger investments than C. Wonder. We try to invest for profitability.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast