By  on January 21, 2008

On a crisp November evening this winter, a stream of youthful, downtown scenesters made their way to an art opening at the Archetype Showroom in New York’s Noho neighborhood. The artfully styled crowd—including Jeff Halmos and Sam Shipley (the former cofounders of Trovata who recently started up their own label, Shipley & Halmos), Royston Langdon of the rock band Spacehog, and assorted editors from Details, Nylon, Paper and Men.Style.com—admired the paintings and illustrations by rising New York artist Ryder Robison and shimmied to dance tunes DJ’d by Sean Shuter, owner of BBlessing, one of Manhattan’s most directional men’s wear stores, and Daniel Jackson, a partner in the trendy label Surface to Air.

Orchestrating the party and making sure there was a steady flow of vodka on the makeshift bars was Audrey Gingras, founder of the two-year-old showroom. But apart from showcasing Robison’s work (he happens to be Gingras’s boyfriend), the event exemplified the spirit and focus of Archetype: representing highly creative fashion brands with an artful edge.

“I think all the brands I represent have an artistic integrity to them,” says Gingras, 30. “They are somewhat fashion-forward but accessible, and there’s a somewhat dark element to them also.”

In short, Archetype’s specialty is fashion that appeals to hipsters—as witnessed by the crowd at the party—although Gingras and her team tend to abhor the “h” word.

On the showroom’s client roster for sales and public relations are the men’s brands Corpus, Fremont, The Cast, Chronicles of Never and Nove; the accessories lines Black Sheep & Prodigal Sons and Digby & Iona; the T-shirt lines Beatrix and Green Tee; and the footwear brands Spring Court, Schmoove and Tristan Blair. Additionally, Archetype handles PR for Surface to Air, BBlessing and the promising new men’s wear label Bureau, launched by Cory Gomberg last season.

Several of Archetype’s clients are untrained designers, who have built their labels with an innate sense of style and sheer sweat equity. L.A.-based Corpus was founded by Keith Richardson, previously a professional soccer player, and Jerrod Cornish, an actor, but has evolved over the past five years from a jeans maker for the denim cognoscenti to a sophisticated collection sold at 50 top specialty retailers, including Barneys, Oak, Ron Herman and Scout.

Similarly, Ryan Turner and Chuck Guarino, founders of The Cast, have no formal design training, but have turned their T-shirt line into a full collection sold in about 12 trend-forward retailers, including BBlessing, Hollywood Trading Co., Hollander & Lexer and Inago. Last season, the duo staged their first full runway show during New York Fashion Week, offering up a strong statement of their signature skinny tailoring, punkish leather jackets and vests, and shimmery, glam-rock trousers.

A similar spirit of entrepreneurship led Gingras to found Archetype in the summer of 2005. She had worked in the fashion industry ever since her first job in the handbag department of Bloomingdale’s in the Riverside Mall in her native New Jersey. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a major in marketing and a minor in studio art, Gingras worked in sales and PR at Cynthia Rowley and Theory, and then moved on to a small, independent showroom.

That experience sparked Gingras’s desire to open her own showroom. “I really wanted to work with brands that I loved and believed in,” she explains. “And I wanted to meld art and fashion in some way.”

Gingras took out a bank loan to finance her start-up and found her spacious, loft-like showroom space at 676 Broadway, which she got a bargain lease on because of its originally dilapidated state. “It was a completely raw space. There were squatters living in it,” she recalls with a laugh. “I wasn’t really nervous about starting my own business. I knew that I was young enough that if it didn’t work out I could always move on to something else. But things have worked out, and I paid off my loan last September!”

Gingras finds that most of her clients have come to her through word of mouth. “It’s mostly people recommending us,” she explains. “And we choose to work with people that we like. We’re really a big family here, and we bounce ideas off each other and with our clients. I think having open communication is so important in this business.”

That sentiment holds true with their client Fremont, whose cofounder, Devin Carlson, is a longtime friend of Cory Heenan, who handles men’s sales at Archetype. Another client, Nove, was founded last year by Patrick Assaraf, who got to know the showroom through his investment in Corpus. (He is also an investor and partner in Earnest Sewn.)

Asked what the biggest challenge in running a showroom like hers is, Gingras says it’s first getting retailers and editors in the door. “It can be a hurdle to get people down here, because most of my brands are not widely known or distributed. But once people come, they love what’s here and end up staying for hours,” says Gingras, who has two PR associates at the showroom, Steven Rojas and May Kwok, working on clients’ press.

It’s the kind of special product from clients like Black Sheep & Prodigal Sons that impresses visitors. Founded by Derrick Cruz in 2006, the company sells what it calls “Dark Mementos,” or handmade jewelry fashioned from vintage ivory, precious metals, engraved piano keys and woolly mammoth tusk in somewhat unusual forms like praying hands, ram’s skulls and sperm whales.

“I think it’s interesting that even large retailers like Bloomingdale’s and Barneys see the importance of having young designers and truly unique product in their stores to create the right environment,” notes Gingras. “I think this new generation of guys doesn’t want to wear the exact same thing as everyone else. They want to show themselves off as unique individuals in this world.”

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