By  on October 17, 2007

Helmut Lang sees opportunity in the West.

The cult brand owned by Link Theory Holdings Co. Ltd. last month opened its first U.S. retail stores in California — on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and on Maiden Lane in San Francisco.

"I happened to find great spaces on both coasts, and New York was supposed to open shortly after, but that deal fell through," said Andrew Rosen, Link Theory Holdings president. "I don't believe in opening one store before another. Both are exciting and important marketplaces."

The Los Angeles store at 8426 Melrose Avenue is behind the Theory unit that opened on the corner of Melrose and Croft Avenues in June. The subdivided warehouse space formerly housed an antiques store.

The entrance is marked by a 5-foot-high concrete wall topped with 2 more feet of clear glass bearing the black Helmut Lang logo. The wall surrounds something that few other Melrose retailers have — a parking lot. Most shoppers in the area park at metered spots on the street.

The 5,000-square-foot, cube-shaped space is entirely visible through floor-to-ceiling glass doors flanked by two windows of equal size. Inside, poured concrete floors, white ceilings crisscrossed by metal supports and exposed brick walls give off a raw industrial vibe.

The store's centerpiece is a modular steel hanging rack resembling pipes that holds three rows of women's apparel and two rows of men's wear. Behind that sit vintage Lucite chairs and a white lacquered denim bar. The folding station and cash register are along another white lacquered bar on the store's left-hand side. Floor-to-ceiling black-and-white advertising campaign images adorn the walls.

The San Francisco store, at 120 Maiden Lane, is similar in aesthetic though in a three-story vertical format that echoes the style of the street's other retail offerings, including Marc Jacobs and Hermès.

At 4,992 square feet, the store features the same steel fixtures, with Sheetrock walls and concrete floors. The women's collection is on the first floor, photography on the mezzanine and men's wear on the third floor.

Prices of the minimal, monochromatic clothing range from $150 for a T-shirt to $400 for dresses to $1,195 for a coat.Although Rosen declined to give sales projections for the stores, he said the brand is developing a healthy business on the West Coast. New York remains the next planned opening, and beyond that, "We'll have to wait and see," he said. "I'm open to all options."

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