By  on October 11, 2007

NEW YORK — Journelle, a 2,000-square-foot lingerie store set to open in the FlatIron District here in December, is for women who prefer lacy to racy.

"It's a store for women who wear lingerie for themselves," said founder Claire Chambers.

Not that Chambers, 27, has anything against sexy. She wants to inject some luxury and sophistication into the category, hence the white-glove service and store design, which features hardwood floors, Art Deco-style furniture, lavender area rugs and mirrors with a floral motif.

"I used to dream about designing lingerie myself," Chambers said. "What I felt was missing was [a store] that would almost act as a curator. There are great lingerie brands out there that are higher quality than what you'd find at Victoria's Secret or in a department store."

Chambers, who said she gets financing and guidance from a team of retail executives and consultants she declined to name, plans more Journelle stores, envisioning as many as 100 in a decade.

In addition to units on shopping thoroughfares in top U.S. cities, Chambers said she'll focus on lifestyle centers and upscale malls. "It's a high-end mall concept," she said.

Chambers projected sales of $1,000 a square foot for the new unit, which is at 3 West 17th Street. "That's what stores in the FlatIron District are doing and I'd expect that we'd be able to [achieve] that as well," she said.

"Escalating rents on Madison Avenue and in SoHo are making retailers [consider] locations where their books can be in the black at the end of the year," said Joel Isaacs, founder of Isaacs and Co., a retail brokerage firm. David Baker of Isaacs and Co., who represented Journelle in the deal, said rents on West 17th Street were cheaper than on Fifth Avenue, where asking prices are about $350 and go as high as $400 a square foot.

Journelle will feature more than 40 innerwear brands from around the world, including Elle Macpherson Intimates and Araks, which is known for its high-quality cotton underwear.

In addition, Journelle will sell Huit, Mimi Holliday, Cosabella and Eberjey, with prices for bras ranging from $35 to $250.Kramer Design Group designed the store with a comfortable, residential feel. Camisole and panty sets are displayed in wood and glass cases and on the wall. The store is merchandised by use rather than by brand. Glamorous special occasion items and gifts will be at the front and more basic products will be in the back.

Chambers, a former management consultant, studied retailers that transformed their markets, such as Starbucks. "They took a commodity and turned it into this almost luxurious experience. Lingerie is something you have to wear every day. We're saying, 'Why not make it luxurious?'"

Chambers cited a study by The NPD Group that found lingerie to be the second-highest-growing category after handbags last year. "Little has changed in the lingerie category since Victoria's Secret," she said. "It's been pretty stagnant."

Other retailers also have identified the opportunity. American Eagle Outfitters launched its aerie subbrand and Gap introduced GapBody.

"Consumers aren't loyal to one brand anymore," she said. "They're looking for a solution."

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