LOS ANGELES — Seven For All Mankind will make its entrance into the retail arena Friday with the opening of its first signature store here — and it's meeting the competition head-on.
Located on the corner of Robertson Boulevard and Alden Drive, Seven's first store is well positioned at the epicenter of celebrity retailing. It is also on a street already crowded with premium denim brands such as True Religion, AG Adriano Goldschmied, Parasuco and Paige Premium Denim.
Seven For All Mankind hopes the store — and the 99 others expected to follow in the next five years — will differentiate itself with a sleek aesthetic designed to appeal to shoppers adding to closets brimming with clothes by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci and Christian Dior.
"The denim is the least expensive part of [this] woman's outfit," said Aaron Battista, vice president of retail for Los Angeles-based Seven. "We really wanted for our denim lifestyle to be defined in a luxurious way. We are not going to do it rock 'n' roll or casual. We wanted to do a high-end shopping boutique with an L.A. attitude."
It's hard to get more L.A. than the corner of Robertson and Alden, where Seven's 3,100-square-foot store is located, diagonally across from the paparazzi's favorite eatery, The Ivy, and near Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, often visited by celebrities.
But Battista said the location is about going where the brand's affluent customers are and presenting them with Seven For All Mankind's full assortment. About 65 percent of the store's merchandise is targeted toward women.
"Robertson attracts a very high-end shopper," said Battista. "You have your aspirational teen junior shopper and you have your mature shopper. What I really love about Robertson is that it is hard to define the age range."
The store contains jeans that retail on average for $200, as well as handbags selling at an average of $900, footwear from $250 to $600 and outerwear for upward of $1,000. Seven collaborated with Italian brand Battistoni for a men's outerwear collection exclusive to the store. Eventually, Seven will move into other categories, such as gloves and belts, to fill the racks.The store's rectangular design allows the entirety of the interior to be viewed from the front door, including the arrival foyer, a wooden cash wrap, a lounge area and a wave-like glass fixture. Five dressing rooms are located at the back and two of the rooms are without doors to accommodate on-site tailoring. The front half of the store holds women's goods while men's makes up the bulk of the back half. Accessories are housed in a carved-out alcove with a skylight and a crystal chandelier.
The entrance makes the statement about the retail look of Seven's lifestyle: a 20-foot-high glass cube decorated with a brushed-stainless steel pylon on one side and wood slats on the other, with a brushed-steel logo. Two 8-foot nameplates — one for Robertson and another for Alden — are lit from behind inside the cube. The Alden-facing stucco exterior is painted entirely in black and broken up with three large windows where passersby can peer in.
"Paul Smith is doing a big pink building [on Melrose Avenue]. This is the antithesis of that," said Greg Anderson, president of InSite Development, the New York-based firm that handled the store's design. "It is very sexy and black. There are a lot of shiny elements."
In contrast to the outside, the interior walls are covered in white lacquer and the floors are subtle gray cement. Three plinths made of Russian blue marble and deep zebrano wood run the length of the store. At the store's center, a 30-foot-long plinth has a curtain of S chains hanging over it.
Elements of the Robertson store design, which was also worked on by Studios Architecture in Los Angeles, will be used in upcoming locations. After Seven For All Mankind's Robertson store officially opens Friday, the second store will raise its curtain in Dallas' NorthPark Center on Monday.
"We have tweaked it a little bit here and there, but you will know it is a Seven store," said Battista.
Next year, the company is planning to add 10 stores, with 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot units in target markets such as New York, Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Texas. The company has its eyes on spots across the ocean, as well, including key cities in Europe and Asia. About 30 percent of Seven's business is done outside the U.S. The globe could be sprinkled with 100 Seven stores by 2012, according to Battista. He declined to disclose sales projections for the stores.Compared with its competitors, Seven is late to the retailing game. Although the company tested a pop-up store last holiday shopping season, Battista explained Seven waited to enter the freestanding retail fray until it completed its "brand story."
"Our wholesale business is so successful," he said. "Retail is coming in to enhance the brand positioning."
Business factors have complicated Seven For All Mankind's retail stampede. The company was bought by VF Corp. in a $779 million deal finalized in August. Before selling to VF, Bear Stearns Merchant Banking acquired a 50 percent stake in Seven in 2005.
Peter Koral, who remains an adviser to the company, started Seven For All Mankind in 2000 with Jerome Dahan and Michael Glasser. Two years later, he became embroiled in a legal dispute with Dahan and Glasser that ended in 2004 with the two being awarded $50 million and $5.5 million in profits for 2001 and 2002. Dahan and Glasser went on to create Citizens of Humanity.
With VF now its engine, Seven has been given the green light to beef up its lifestyle branding and retail presence. In the saturated jeans market, retail offers the brand a venue it can control to introduce alternative items.
"VF has a great retail platform currently, and they are very engaged...about Seven retail," said Battista.
One risk for Seven is treading on the turf of its wholesale base, which has accounted for the company's estimated $300 million in annual revenues. However, Leilani Augustine, vice president of marketing, who spent the last week speaking with department store representatives, said retailers today are accustomed to brands opening their own stores.
"What they are seeing is that, by creating an environment that showcases the brand, it reinforces the brand," Augustine said. "Most times, it ends up helping their business."
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