By  on March 20, 2012

Palm Beach, Fla., is experiencing an uptick in specialty stores. Many retailers are testing demand with pop-up shops, while The Breakers Palm Beach is relying on a captive audience for nearly a dozen resort-owned boutiques.

Hublot, Panerai, Douglas Hannant, Roberta Roller Rabbit, Caswell-Massey and De Luxe opened at 150 Worth shopping center, which has undergone a real estate version of a chemical peel, according to Arthur Weiner, principal of AWE Talisman, the property’s leasing, merchandising and marketing firm.

“It’s really come down in age. Starbucks brought in a different crowd, a trend we’re continuing with fun, casual dining,” he said.

Palm Beach is an obvious seasonal locale for Douglas Hannant, who since launching 15 years ago has established a presence here through stores like Alpark and Martha’s, and charity fashion shows. By last November’s grand opening party, his Manhattan following had already paid a visit to peruse climate-friendly, zip-and-go day dresses, an oversize bag in white canvas trimmed in caramel leather and gold hardware for $2,000, and snakeskin and steel stilettos.

“I’ve spent so much time here, I’m really able to cater to this customer and her events,” said Hannant, who knows the drill, such as displaying a red gown in the window for the Red Cross Ball.

Based on last season’s successful pop-up, Roberta Freymann signed a permanent lease for 2,000 square feet. Roberta Roller Rabbit resortwear and home make up the bulk of merchandise, with a smaller offering of her namesake fashion and costume jewelry, like signature infinity necklaces of painted, recycled wood. Considering her casual direction tops out at $145, she’s surprised octogenarians scoop up tunics by the armful.

“Though the older Palm Beach ladies are disappearing, it’s less staid no matter the age,” said Freymann, still indecisive about shuttering during the dead of summer. “Closing last March was definitely too early.”

With stores in New York, Los Angeles and the Hamptons, Freymann predicts sales in Palm Beach, her largest venture, will rival East Hampton since people on winter holidays are less cautious and tourists want to blend in.

After running a two-year-old online store specializing in wraps made of vicuna, Scottish cashmere and Egyptian and Peruvian cottons retailing for $82 to $2,000, De Luxe owners Veronica and Luis Garcia expanded to brick-and-mortar in August.

“We thought about other places like Aspen, but Palm Beach’s charming architecture sealed the deal,” said Veronica Garcia, who gets a lot of European traffic. “They’re more familiar with the quality of our fibers.”

The trio of 25-year-old local fashion and footwear designers behind Wanderers, the island’s edgiest pop-up, wrapped up their three-month run at the end of January. Decor played up the oceanside setting with paint in blue shades, rustic wood furnishings and nautical antiques. Its non-Worth Avenue address along Royal Poinciana Way was just one way the concept veered from the norm here. 

Matthew Chevallard, owner of Del Toro shoes, and Christina Coniglio and Ariel Lilly, founders of the Rae Francis contemporary couture collection with looks like Seventies-inspired silk pants in coral, taupe and an updated camouflage print for $280, curated an all-local lineup including Strong Boalt men’s swimwear, Allegra Fanjul jewelry and Fifth Dimensions custom paddle boards.

“We had fantastic response, mainly Northern tourists and locals big on supporting other locals,” said Chevallard, who plans to open a permanent store in Miami Beach this fall.

Around the corner on North County Road, Hamptons jewelry designer Michelle Farmer’s multibrand clothing boutique bowed in January. Alongside her namesake collection of baroque pearls, pyrite and leather retailing for $165 to $20,000, she carries consigned pieces by emerging high-end designers, many of whom are friends and trunk show contacts making their foray into retail.

“It’s like a test lab for Palm Beach and its social circles,” she said, in her 2,000-square-foot collaborative gallery that also sells contemporary art and chandeliers.

Bestselling WHT, designed by Suzzanne Whitmore, a long-time buyer for the Obligato store in East Hampton, appeals to twenty- and sixtysomethings alike, according to Farmer. Its one-shoulder tops in coral and turquoise silk, and handmade, pleated linen frocks retail from $200 to $500. A small selection of silk eveningwear billows to the floor and ties at the shoulder. Lauren Gabrielson, who assisted on Ginny Hilfiger’s line before striking out on her own, also is well-received for preppy slim shifts in customized laces and linings.

“Affordable custom is a big selling point here since it’s tough to find different items in such a small town, that don’t cost thousands either,” said Farmer, who also puts out swatches for long, drapey ponchos by Manu’ Cashmere. “We sold out at $350 each during our first week, in Florida no less.”

A chance phone call for retail advice from Lee Johnson, an old friend and architect in Manhattan Beach, Calif., who launched men’s shorts in vintage Italian fabrics under the Old Bull Lee label in December, landed her the account instead.

“The store just fell together like that,” said Farmer, who plans to expand the concept to Bridgehampton this spring and add her own line of hand-dyed chiffon gowns with a mille-feuille effect. 

On Via Amore, the former Via Gucci, sisters and London-based Key Leaf resortwear designers Adriana and Claudia Chaparro Pignalosa opened their first freestanding store in December.

“We’ve been coming here since we were little and had great response with sales at another Worth Avenue boutique,” said Adriana.

Retailing from $320 to $800, their silk dresses, jumpsuits and cover-ups stand out for exclusive nature-themed prints of bees and butterflies. Swimwear and scarves start at $190.  

The Breakers has been busy, too, opening and renovating retail that is concentrated in a corridor off its lobby. On her 80th birthday, local Lilly Pulitzer swung by to fete a resort-owned store in her name. It joins other unique partnerships like Ralph Lauren and Guerlain. John Zoller, vice president of retail operations for The Breakers, said the 800-square-foot space represents nearly the entire women’s collection with some children’s and men’s.

“The brand, which originated here, thinks of the hotel as the heart of Palm Beach, so it was the perfect marriage,” he said, adding Pulitzer’s decorating team went all out to create a real sense of history. “The setting feels more exclusive, especially the ornately themed dressing rooms that tell her story.” 

The store mainly draws hotel guests, since locals shop the line’s nearby signature account C. Orrico. Zoller reports the opposite is true for multibrand stores like Absolutely Suitable, a swimwear boutique, and Match, a new shoe salon that is a sister store to Mix, a mainstay for fine and flash jewelry. All three have a large local clientele, which he attributes to their broader selection.

“Take shoes, for example. The island’s department stores tend to focus on the big three,” said Zoller, who writes Edmundo Castillo, Pedro Garcia, B by Brian Atwood and Loeffler Randall, among 26 women’s lines and four men’s. “We’re a combination of Bergdorf’s second and fifth floors.”

New York-based Janson Goldstein designed the 1,088-square-foot Match space, which has suede-padded shelves, bronze fixtures and geometric wallpaper. Orange stools and an acid green ottoman pop amid taupe.

“We made sure this store had a lot of windows so guests can impulse shop after dinner,” said Zoller.

The same design firm renovated the 12-year-old Absolutely Suitable with a rolling wave ceiling and pebbled floor inspired by Ipanema. White walls highlight swimwear from 35 collections like Shan, Manuel Canovas and Karla Colletto, from which customers match one cover-up for every suit retailing from $125 to $500.

Zoller reports snowbirds wait to return south before buying their swim wardrobe for the season. Sunglasses by Tom Ford, Prada and Marc Jacobs, among others, occupy a glowing central display. 

“With all this water, we’re in the swim business year-round in a big way, which is oddly rare here,” he said.

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