By  on December 22, 2010

Nordstrom Inc. has acquired a minority stake in children’s and infants’ retailer Peek…Aren’t You Curious.

Pete Nordstrom, president of merchandising, said in an interview on Tuesday that Peek merchandise will become a major part of the core offering in all Nordstrom kids departments. Peek, which has six stores in the West and Southwest and had 100 wholesale accounts, including Barneys New York, will be sold exclusively at Nordstrom, initially in 18 full-line units, and on nordstrom.com starting in February. Eight Nordstrom stores will initially have shop-in-shops inspired by Peek.

Maureen Chiquet, Chanel’s chief executive officer, is a board member and alerted Nordstrom to the company.

Nordstrom did not rule out investing in other businesses. “We want to be curious,” he said. “Curious and selective.” While the retailer isn’t a big proponent of shop-in-shops, Nordstrom said, “You may see more shop-in-shops if we found a unique brand.”

The Seattle-based retailer has a history of partnerships, including investments in Façonnable and Jeffrey New York. Façonnable provided an exclusive collection of men’s and women’s wear with stand-alone stores. However, Nordstrom sold its stake in 2007 because it was complicated to manage a French designer business from the U.S., Nordstrom said. In Jeffrey’s case, it was access to the expertise and connections of founder Jeffrey Kalinsky, who became executive vice president of designer merchandising at Nordstrom.

“His business on a stand-alone basis is a very good business,” Nordstrom said, explaining that Kalinsky didn’t want to open more stores. “The value he’s been able to add to our designer merchandise has exceeded our expectations.”

“People are always interested in selling us exclusive brands, but we’re not interested in exclusive for exclusive sake,” Nordstrom said. “Macy’s has done a lot of that. In case of Jeffrey and Tina [Canales, co-founder of Peek], they fit the bill. It’s inspiring. I talk to Jeffrey all the time and I plan to talk to Tina all the time. Tina has a lot of experience in adult vertical retail and has had a lot of success in women’s,” as former vice president of women’s merchandising at Gap.

In terms of opening more Peek units, Nordstrom said the “goal is to be a successful stand-alone business and there’s a certain amount of scale and size to that. If we can be in a position to help, we want to help. Their stores are compelling.”

Peek designs and manufactures six proprietary brands for its stores, including Fleur des Champs, which uses Liberty of London fabrics for items such as the Eloise ruffled skirt for $68. “We use fabrics that aren’t traditionally used in the kids’ market,” Canales said, citing Indian block prints. “You don’t walk out with one singular point of view.”

Peek has been growing its customer base from babies sizes 0 to 24 months and kids’ sizes 2 to 10, by introducing size 12.

Peek’s average store size is 1,500 square feet. The size of shop-in-shops at Nordstrom will be 400 to 450 square feet. Canales said the in-store shops will have big picnic tables and monkey bars for fixtures, just like Peek stores.

“It’s not so much that the Peek stores have all this fancy buildout, it’s the product itself, it has a point-of-view and charm. Tina tells a good story,” Nordstrom said. “We want to not only carry Peek as a brand, but give Tina an opportunity to create her own vision and learn from it. We have 115 stores and we can try some things. We’re a big public company. They’re small and nimble. It’s motivating for us to think more like a small merchant. We want to be open-minded.”

Asked whether the idea of a full-line Nordstrom in Manhattan is still alive, Pete Nordstrom said, “We’re as interested as ever.”

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