By  on December 21, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Denim resource True Religion has opened its first store, a 900-square-foot, hickory-paneled ode to Western style, on the main shopping drag in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Despite the brand's popularity among Hollywood starlets, nary a Hilton was in sight on opening day.

Jeffrey Lubell, president and chief executive officer of the three-year-old company, said the decision to bow without fanfare Dec. 2 in a satellite community in metropolitan Los Angeles was central to his strategy for "testing" True Religion's first store outside of the limelight.

"We didn't open with a party with Nicole Richie," he said. "We just unlocked the doors and quietly let people discover us."

Plans to build freestanding stores in Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York are in the works, Lubell said.

Business at the Manhattan Beach door, about 30 minutes south of downtown Los Angeles, has been brisk.

Employees went into crowd control mode the first Saturday as customers wedged into the space to sample True Religion's holiday collection, which includes T-shirts, formfitting hand-embroidered jeans and velvet blazers. The spring line's straight-leg women's jeans — "for easier boot tucking," Lubell said — is scheduled for delivery in January.

Lubell, who, along with his wife, Kymberly, is also the company's chief designer, said he modeled the seaside store after the displays he has put up at trade shows since he founded the brand in 2002.

Two wooden countertops resembling cocktail bars run the length of the selling space. Swivel bar-like stools bearing the True Religion logo — a cartoonish Buddha playing guitar — line the countertops.

The service concept was also gleaned from the trade show floor. Employees stand behind the two counters, in front of racks of hanging jeans and tops. Only one of each item is available at this display. More sizes are neatly stacked in cubbies above the racks, where employees retrieve stock for customers upon request.

Projected 2006 sales for the store are $1 million, though Lubell said he was confident the company would exceed that goal.

True Religion went public in June 2003, and revenue for the company is projected to exceed $91 million in 2005. The brand has its headquarters and manufacturing in downtown Los Angeles and is carried in Nordstom, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman stores and more than 600 boutiques internationally.

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