By  on April 12, 2006

MIAMI — In a city imbued with sex and glitz, M0851 is a marked departure.

The Montreal-based wholesaler and specialty store chain opened off Miami Beach's Lincoln Road in January and generated curiosity for its minimalist women's and men's collections and leather outerwear, and for its mysterious moniker, a combination of founder Frederic Mamarbachi's last initial and birthday.

"It's our first venture in a vacation location," said Faye Mamarbachi, Frederic's daughter, who does marketing and graphic design for the brand. "Since it's such a different market for us, we let the franchise owner bring in items like watches and jewelry from outside vendors that complement the neighborhood."

The company is experiencing "tremendous" growth, said Faye Mamarbachi. She said 2005 sales jumped 15 percent, and the company has store expansion plans for European cities, where the brand has already been well received through wholesale accounts like Le Bon Marché in Paris, and for U.S. cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. There are currently 100 doors, including Henri Bendel, Marshall Field's and Fred Segal; five company-owned and -operated stores in North America, and two franchises in Asia. "Both New York stores are doing very well," she said, predicting a 25 percent increase for the company in total retail and wholesale business for 2006.

Store sizes range from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet, while decor varies, depending on whether a particular store follows the new prototype of clean lines and natural elements seen at the Madison Avenue location in Manhattan. White walls and simple shelving, track lighting and natural wood or raw cement floors also appear in the Miami Beach location and in SoHo, where the showroom also is housed. "We chose a nondecorative look so items would shoot out at customers," Faye Mamarbachi said.

She emphasized that product must stand alone, so advertising is muted and the name is free of description or image. Three years ago the company changed its name from Rugby North America, which it felt was too rugged and sporty-sounding. Faye Mamarbachi said the decision had nothing to do with Ralph Lauren's collegiate stores of the same name. It allows greater freedom for developing architecture and furniture divisions that mirror the no-frills yet high-quality philosophy, she noted."We wanted a more subtle and neutral trademark that permitted the products to evoke a feeling, as opposed to a label," she said.

Women's collections, produced biannually and that feature about 45 pieces, along with smaller leather groups, are 50 percent of the merchandise. Spring bestsellers are cotton tops — from tanks to long-sleeve T-shirts, in dusty colors — retailing for $45 to $95; loose, straight-leg pants in charcoal or violet linen with a knit waist for $165, and a sleeveless tunic and matching prairie skirt in striped silk for $175 and $135, respectively.

But leather pieces and accessories drive sales and garner the most attention, Faye Mamarbachi said. A cropped jacket and fitted vest in aniline leather in pastels like lilac and pink are the season's hottest clothing items. "We show thin leather for spring and add thicker leather, a longer coat and down-lined pieces for fall," she said.

Fall's double-breasted trenchcoat in black, brown or red leather retails for $850, and pants, which the company hasn't made for many seasons, return in fashion colors like vanilla, khaki and denim blue for $575. Fall also focuses annually on a cashmere program of classic styles like turtleneck and V-neck sweaters in neutrals for about $290, plus a corduroy group with pieces like a flared knee-length skirt for $110, a blazer for $270 and straight-leg pants for $195, in brown, gray or fuchsia.

"Miami will definitely have crazier cuts and colors," she said. "We can permit ourselves to have more fun there."

Many leather colors, such as fall's chestnut, vanilla and burnt red, carry over into a deeply represented bag division sized from belt bags to small luggage pieces. Averaging $320, retail prices range from $170 to $460.

Reporting that bags are consistently tops in sales, Faye Mamarbachi said trends such as oversized bags and short handles, and new styles like a backpack and a laptop case, join signature looks each season. "Big is outselling small, over-the-shoulder bags now," she said. "People are even using our weekend bag for everyday."

As a lifestyle brand, the company also designs and manufactures rustic wooden tables, as well as sofas and chairs in the same aniline leather palette, in its 6,000-square-foot production facility in Montreal. It entered the home market during the mid-Nineties, a few years after opening its first freestanding store in Montreal."My father is well-rounded, and these multiple divisions are a true portrayal of him and his global vision," said Faye Mamarbachi, who cited tight quality control, noting that everything is still made in Canada.

A Syrian immigrant, Frederic Mamarbachi emigrated to Canada in his teens. He entered the fashion industry at 18 and owned a variety of vendors' retail stores before establishing the Rugby's wholesale business in 1987. His daughter said a celebration is planned for the 20th anniversary next year. "We're really proud of this event and plan to be here another 20," she said.

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