By  on June 6, 2007

WEST HOLLYWOOD — Contemporary casual brand Seaton has brought the beach to Melrose Avenue.

The surf-inspired company launched its first retail store here last month, a 1,400-square-foot unit decorated to resemble a luxury beach hotel lobby.

Husband-and-wife co-owners Jill Roberts and Mark Freeman started the brand in 2005. "We live a very California lifestyle," said Roberts, who also owns and operates three high-end contemporary retail boutiques in the Los Angeles area called Jill Roberts. "We're ultimate sun-chasers….Mark threw this idea out of making our own clothes."

Roberts described the collection, which retails from $55 for a T-shirt to around $400 for cashmere pieces, as "a luxurious surf brand."

The store opened with summery items such as silk-screened cotton T-shirts and dresses in citrus hues. "For fall and winter, the line is still about being near the water, just more sweatshirts and yummy cashmere sweaters," Roberts said.

The merchandise is around 60 percent Seaton and 40 percent outside apparel, accessories and beauty brands, a ratio that will increasingly favor Seaton as the brand grows. The company recently designed a line of beach towels and candles. Outside products include printed silk dresses from Issa, strappy flat sandals from Matt Bernson and chunky knits by New Scotland.

Seaton is sold at Ron Herman, Neiman Marcus Cusp, and Planet Blue, and the couple hopes to grow the wholesale business as they consider opening as many as 20 to 30 stores in the next five years in New York; Orange County, Calif.; San Diego; San Francisco; Palm Beach, Fla.; Miami; Denver, and Atlanta.

"We want to be able to put it in locations with [seasons]," said Freeman, whose family founded Freeman Cosmetics, where he was president of international business before the company was sold to the Dial Corp. in 1998.

The new store is on a quiet but upscale strip of Melrose Avenue, west of bustling La Cienega Boulevard. Neighbors include Costume National, James Perse and designer specialty store Maxfield.

The couple declined to disclose sales forecasts, but noted that the store was also meant to be a showcase for the Seaton brand for other retailers. "It's almost like public relations for the collection," Roberts said.She collaborated on the store's beach-inspired aesthetics with interior designer Mary McDonald. "It's old Palm Beach 1940s glamour with contemporary fixtures," Roberts said.

Apparel hangs around the perimeter and is folded on a large table next to an oversize aqua-colored ottoman. Bluish-gray curtains form a cabana-like area in the middle of the store, where coffee-table travel books are mixed with beauty items such as Savon de Marseilles hand soap and fragrances by Comptoir Sud Pacifique. A mural depicting the outlines of underwater creatures wraps around the back walls, giving way to an enclave with three dressing rooms painted canary yellow. A large mirror hangs behind the store's counter, framed by an artful tangle of sun-bleached seashells.

"I like to mix Malibu with the French Riviera," said Roberts, a former French literature major at UCLA.

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