By  on March 21, 2005

NEW YORK — From the fiberoptic chandelier in its new 5,000-square-foot store here, to the distinctive styling of its fashion, there’s nothing cookie-cutter about Reiss.

Unlike other foreign chains that are trying to conquer the U.S., such as H&M and Zara, Reiss doesn’t have hundreds of stores. The retailer operates a modest 32 doors, most of them in the U.K.

“We’re a niche player,” said David Reiss, the company’s founder. “I’ve always felt there was a gap in the market for what we’re doing.”

Reiss expects the store at 387 West Broadway in SoHo, which officially opens March 30, to do $5.2 million in first-year sales. He defines the brand as designer-led fashion at bridge prices.

“Our product isn’t derivative,” he said. “The inspiration doesn’t come from the catwalks.” Instead, the company’s design team looks at vintage clothing, for example, for ideas.

“We did the whole look of the shrug, but now we’ve cut back because everyone’s done it,” said Lyndon Mackenzie, brand manager. 

Reiss offers a complete collection consisting of suitings, separates, casualwear, jeans, accessories, innerwear and swimwear, which is new this season. Designers emphasize luxury fabrics such as cashmere and Italian wovens. With five key deliveries each season and new product arriving weekly, Reiss operates on a production cycle similar to bigger players.

Reiss parts company with the competition, however, when it comes to merchandising. Rather than displaying clothes by classification, the company organizes clothing by color story, so the off-white Noora military style jacket with gold buttons ($320) hangs next to the pale sequined Nevada skirt ($245), white cords, tailored pants, cotton tank tops and a suede bomber jacket ($500). Shoes, belts and handbags are woven into the vignettes.

The store’s decor, which uses materials culled from around the world, feels exotic without conjuring a specific place. Chandeliers were manufactured in China and assembled in the U.K. The metallic wallpaper used in the dressing rooms is from Australia.

“Everything is bespoke and custom-designed by us,” said Borrien Hopley, director of D-raw Assoc., which designed the store. Brick walls were left exposed but softened with hanging glass screens printed with scenes from the Reiss ad campaign. Floors are made of shredded and reprocessed wood and display tables and the cash wrap is tinted Perspex plastic lit from below.The company has attracted attention in the U.K., winning the 2003 High Street Retailer of the Year award at the British Style Awards, and the Smaller Fashion Multiple of the Year at the Drapers Awards.

David Reiss founded the Oliver shirt manufacturing company in 1970 and opened the first Reiss men’s store in London’s Bishopsgate in 1975 at the height of the “Mod look.” In 1980, a Reiss flagship opened on Kings Road in London. The women’s wear collection launched in 2000.

Based on the success of a soft opening last week, Reiss is already looking at other sites in New York. He envisions stores in the major U.S. cities with a maximum of 50 units. Stores outside the U.S. and U.K. will be licensed, and Reiss has a deal to open a dozen stores in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, there are stores on tap for Scandinavia and other European locations and the Far East, with a goal of 100 units worldwide.

While Reiss is located in some prominent locations, the company doesn’t want to be emotionally linked to the High Street, which has a mass market connotation.

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