By  on April 9, 2010

In the current lightning-paced economy, Isabel Marant is an argument for the slow, steady approach to fashion.

Sixteen years after Marant launched her Paris-based contemporary label, the designer is opening her first U.S. store today on Broome Street in New York City. If the store has been a long time coming, it’s not because Marant has struggled to gain recognition. Rather, she’s been quietly building a healthy, independent business fueled by a cult following of models, starlets (Kirsten Dunst, Rachel Bilson) and French fashion influentials (French Vogue’s Emmanuelle Alt) that have raised her global profile exponentially in the past few years.

“It was time for me to become more international,” said Marant by phone a week before the store opening. “For me, New York was the first city I could think of after my shops in Paris. It was also the way to really express my whole universe.”

Marant decided on SoHo for her seventh freestanding store — she has three in Paris, two in Hong Kong and one in Spain, in addition to wholesale accounts — after reacquainting herself with the city, which she hadn’t visited in a decade. “I’ve heard about Meatpacking, about Bleecker Street, about Brooklyn,” said Marant. “So I’ve been scouting all around, all those places where things are happening. But my heart was still in SoHo because there are beautiful buildings and I wanted to open a quieter, spacey shop.”

The 2,240-square-foot space on the corner of Greene Street was designed by Nicolas Andre, a French architect who also worked on two of Marant’s Paris boutiques, with the help of New York’s Beyhan Karahan Associates. Those familiar with the designer’s Parisian stores shouldn’t expect a replica — she isn’t interested in re-creating the same shop in every city. So the SoHo space is done with raw woods and what she describes as a “wooden cork room” to showcase accessories, which is what Marant started with in 1989 when she launched a collection of oversize jewelry. That led to an accessories collaboration with Eighties icon Claude Montana, followed by knits and the full Isabel Marant collection in 1994.

Since then, it’s been a steady ascent that has crescendoed in the past few seasons. Still, Marant’s business is anchored in a consistent look, a Frenchified mix of boyish androgyny, bohemia and overt girliness. “I’m still doing the same kind of fashion that I always used to do,” says Marant. “It’s true that I’ve got more [attention] — all the top models are doing my shows because I’m more known, so it all comes together.” Marant recently launched an ad campaign in the interest of international expansion, which initially was set to begin in Los Angeles before New York. The deal fell through but plans for a Los Angeles outpost are still on for the near future. Still, Marant is intent on growing in a calculated, controlled way. “I’ve always had a very secure way of development because I created my brand in ’94 with my own money and really increased, increased, increased step by step,” she says. “I waited [to expand] until I had a very a good retail experience. We are designers...but to become retailers through opening shops is another kind of management. You cannot really make any errors.”

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