By  on March 31, 2014

Maje is on a mission to grow.

The French contemporary brand, which was bought last year by private equity firm KKR & Co. along with the labels Sandro and Claudie Pierlot, has opened stores in the Los Angeles area on Beverly Drive, where Maje has planted its largest U.S. flagship occupying 2,000 square feet, and in Beverly Center with a more typical footprint of nearly 1,065 square feet. The stores are part of a U.S. retail rollout that will take Maje to at least 15 units this year after upcoming stores in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, Bal Harbour Shops in Florida, Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon, Calif., and New York City with a flagship possibly opening in the fall in SoHo.

“It is important for us to have flagships in places like New York and L.A. to make an impact for the brand. With our new partner KKR, it is a key priority for them,” said Patrick Valeo, president and chief operating officer of the American arm of the brands Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot. Speaking of the flagship on Beverly Drive specifically, he said Maje chose the street because it has become “the Rodeo Drive for the contemporary luxury market. The depth of traffic as far as where your location is opening is key. It is on the prime block next to Brighton Way.”

A dozen years after designer Judith Milgrom founded Maje, the brand was introduced to the American market in 2011 with New York stores on Bleecker Street and Spring Street, a unit that has been temporarily closed due to flooding, and three concessions at Bloomingdale’s doors in New York and New Jersey. In 2012 and 2013, the year KKR invested, Maje amplified its U.S. presence, and now has a total of 43 points of distribution between Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Hudson’s Bay, and its 11 freestanding stores in the country.

“When we came to the U.S., it was important that we started with a partner that we were allowed to do concessions in as well as have freestanding stores in New York. We had five locations pretty quickly in New York. It gave the branding and the image and the marketing a powerful presence in the city, which allowed us to expand into Florida and California and all of these other key parts in America,” said Valeo. “Where we go is as important as how quickly we go. It enabled us to secure A locations in America.”

Going forward, Valeo estimated Maje would open six to eight freestanding stores yearly in the U.S. “We are opening an enormous amount of stores. This year alone there are nine different freestanding stores opening, which is more than we did the prior year. That is testament to the success in the market and the rapid elevation of the brand,” said Valeo. “We have quickly become one of the top four in the contemporary market when you look at our rankings [at the retailers where Maje sells]. That is driving the continued growth.”

Valeo said Maje has been generating average annual sales per square foot of around $2,000 at its stores, and he pointed out they maintained double-digit same-store sales increases even during the cold winter on the East Coast. He attributed a large part of the robust performance to Maje’s so-called fast retail model that dictates the brand infuses its stores with new deliveries seven to eight times a season. “That puts a huge strain on our production department, but it has allowed us to have this type of growth. It is not only double-digit growth in the U.S., it is double-digit growth globally,” said Valeo.

Inside Maje stores, apparel and accessory categories are intertwined to give customers an idea of how to put together outfits. “We really push the customers to mix and match, and create that look that is chic with a Parisian flair,” said Valeo. Discussing specific items that are doing well for Maje, he added, “Dresses are always an easy win for the brand. A very large portion of our sales are within the dress category, but coats also do well for us.” Dresses constitute a quarter of Maje’s sales and, overall for the brand, the average ticket is in the $300 to $400 range.

At the U.S. corporate offices, the combined Maje, Sandro and Claudie Pierlot workforce has reached around 40 people, up from only seven less than two years ago. Doug McCullough, formerly a regional director at Tom Ford, recently joined Maje’s American operations as vice president and brand director. “Now we have the infrastructure for future growth,” said Valeo. “When I look at all of the brands who have come from overseas — in the last two years, there has been a lot of them — the key foresight of our original shareholders in Paris was to put in a formal subsidiary in the U.S. market with local people that have the know-how in the market combined with colleagues from Paris that know the DNA of the brand. That is what allowed us to quickly take hold in the market.” 

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