By  on April 16, 2007

LOS ANGELES — The Parisian contemporary brand Diab'less has been sold here for almost two decades in boutiques such as Fred Segal and Planet Blue, but wants to make a bigger impact with the launch of its first U.S. store, on Melrose Avenue.

The 800-square-foot shop, which opened Wednesday, is next to a Marc by Marc Jacobs unit on a fast-evolving block of Melrose Avenue across the street from the designer shopping row on Melrose Place. One of the store's neighbors is a BCBG flagship set to open next month.

"The area is the next destination in fashion," said Diab'less designer and owner Chan­tal Hagège, who launched the brand in 1989. "The big fashion cities now are Milan, Paris, New York and L.A. It's a very important place."

The company operates two boutiques in Paris, and has an 800-square-foot shop-in-shop in the Parisian department store Printemps. The label also is carried in stores in almost a dozen countries.

Expanding the brand's retail base in the U.S. came at the prodding of Hagège's partner, Cherifa Zaggaie, who took over the U.S. arm of the company in 2006. "Stores in the U.S. have bought the brand for years," Zaggaie said, "but Chantal didn't have the structure or the team to present it [to buyers] correctly."

The partners decided to expand the retail presence by creating boutiques that help define Diab'less' aesthetics for other merchants.

"You used to go to Kitson and they would have five pieces of Diab'less, not the whole story," Hagège said. "The point now is to present a whole collection. If a store wants to buy Diab'less, they now have to buy a real story. If they want three pieces, I will say, 'No. It's not worth it, and it's not good for the brand.'"

Hagège and Zaggaie said they hope to open in New York within the year, followed by a unit in Miami. They anticipate $1.5 million in sales at the Los Angeles shop in the next year.

The boutique opened with the spring collection, defined by flirty, lightweight knitwear — including fine-gauge knickers, cropped cardigans with embroidered polkadots and cashmere zip-up hoodies emblazoned with bejeweled skulls on the backs. Prices range from $120 for a knit microskirt to around $600 for a racer-back knit tank dress covered in alternating rows of silver and gold sequins.The intimate space, a former antiques store, was renovated using Modernist design elements: large sections of drywall strategically positioned on the walls and ceiling to look as though they were floating. Three custom-made shelving units, featuring cubbyholes with tray-like inserts that slide out via silver knobs, display stacked items. Hanging pieces are merchandised by category, with sportswear, daytime dresses and separates and more formal pieces on separate racks. Ornate white glass-and-crystal chandeliers hang on the middle of the boutique.

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