By  on October 15, 2007

Like many contemporary brands, Club Monaco is embracing two of the industry's most popular buzzwords today: luxury and lifestyle.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the retailer has been owned since 1999 by Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., which elevates lifestyle branding to an art form by creating palpable worlds for its collections to inhabit.

While perhaps influenced by its parent, Club Monaco's journey to a higher quality product and shopping experience has also been organic. "As our customer has pushed us and the expectations of our customers have grown, we've followed suit," said John Mehas, president and chief executive officer of Club Monaco.

For example, he pointed out that fabrics are largely woven at Italian mills, and there is a strong focus on cashmere for fall. "We're taking a big position on affordable luxury with a twist."

The lifestyle angle is evident in an expanded range of accessories, jewelry, small leather goods and ancillary products that Mehas layers on for effect. "We'll bring in the perfect wine glasses and cashmere throws," he explained.

Coffee table books about photography and fashion, and Wallpaper city guides are stacked on tables alongside sweaters or lined up on Lucite shelves next to handbags. Several of Club Monaco's stores sell vintage Rolexes priced at more than $1,000.

Club Monaco has been a contributor to Polo Ralph Lauren's strong financial performance over the last few years. In the fiscal third quarter, Club Monaco's same-store sales increased 11.4 percent. In the fourth quarter, same-store sales advanced 5.3 percent. For the month of September, the brand's sales were up 15.9 percent.

The retailer's new 4,500-square-foot flagship at 211 Columbus Avenue and 70th Street in New York is an example of the company's latest prototype. The store, like the clothing palette, is black and white, but it is neither cold nor stark. The goal, said Mehas, was to create a space with the light and expansiveness of a New York loft and the architectural details of an apartment on Paris' Left Bank.

"It was important to evolve the store from a design perspective, because we elevated the product," Mehas said.

Robin Kramer of Kramer Design Group used herringbone-patterned floors of Brazilian cherrywood painted black; limestone floors, and moldings on the walls, which are alternately painted white and black, to achieve the desired effect. A seating area with a large coffee table is surrounded by chairs upholstered in black flannel with white chalk-stripes.Besides basics like cashmere T-shirts and white button-down blouses, Club Monaco offers items such as a black sequin T-shirt dress for $229, a black quilted leather jacket with bracelet sleeves for $499 and a cashmere coat with horn buttons, $349. "The suiting section is a little sexier and hipper than [at other stores]," Mehas said. "We've edited it. It's about the wide leg [this season]. It's really digestible fashion."

Mehas said the company plans to open 12 stores in 2008 in major U.S. cities. The company now operates 65 stores in the U.S. and Canada and 38 international stores in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Dubai. Next year, Club Monaco will enter Singapore and Malaysia. "We're considering Europe and other Asian countries," Mehas said. "We've had a lot of terrific interest from Europe."

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