By  on January 5, 2006

NEW YORK - Having designed a suite for the Halekulani resort last year, Vera Wang is marking the start of 2006 by opening her first lifestyle boutique at the Hawaiian resort.

Beginning Friday, shoppers will find a breadth of Vera Wang products, including ready-to-wear, select resort offerings, lightweight knitwear, sunglasses, fine jewelry, fragrance, stationery, china, crystal, silver and other gifts. The 600-square-foot space is expected to attract both hotel guests and non-vacationers.

"The shop at Halekulani is a great place to initiate the concept of a lifestyle boutique that would complement the suite in every sense," Wang said. "We wanted to sell wonderful little keepsakes. These are things that anyone on holiday there could buy and bring home as mementos of their trip. It's also a wonderful place to influence people about our home collection, which is something we have done for years."

Wang currently operates a bridal boutique on New York's Madison Avenue, as well as a bridesmaids boutique on Madison. But the store at Halekulani will be the first to carry all her lifestyle products.

To some extent, this collaboration captures what Wang is trying to do on a larger level - expand her $300 million business beyond its foothold in the bridal market by showering her customers with a strategic mix of products that are not solely tied to apparel. In recent months, the designer, who started a bridal business at the age of 40 after stints at Vogue magazine and Ralph Lauren, has been on a roll. In November, she jetted off to Shanghai to accept the international fashion designer of the year award at the China Fashion Awards. Last year, Wang scored the women's wear fashion designer of the year award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Susan Sokol, president of Vera Wang, apparel division, said, "The store is a new concept for us. It embodies the spirit and lifestyle of the brand and enables us to showcase all the multifaceted parts of Vera Wang. We felt it was the perfect complement to the Halekulani suite on the beautiful island of Oahu. Some of the products in the suite will be for sale in the boutique."Last year, Wang designed a suite for the Halekulani and decorated it with antiques, handmade furniture, customized furniture and lighting fixtures and other items from her home collection. One of the advantages of designing a suite was that Wang could use techniques she dabbled in with her rtw collection to a greater degree with the home pieces. By "cross-pollinating," she used a complicated crocheting technique that was initially used for a belt in her collection as a pillow for the suite, she said.

Although not billed as a honeymoon suite, the setup is clearly geared for the many Vera Wang-happy brides who wed and/or vacation in Hawaii. With standard rooms starting at $385 per night and suites costing $860, the hotel's two-bedroom Vera Wang suite runs a hefty nightly bill of $5,500 per night.

The designer said she is now designing a poolside cabana that is a perk included in the fee for her Halekulani suite. In total, the collaboration has been a four-year project for her.

Wang said she expects to finish designing a suite for another hotel by the end of the year, but declined to identify the property. She has been approached by other hotels but has not signed on with any of them at this point.

"Very pleased" with the reception to her Halekulani suite, Wang said she is eager about the boutique's opening. "It will be a lovely showcase of what we do - nothing grand, nothing big. We do do a lot of products, and it's nice to have a little place to show them. No biggie."

Referring to the new boutique, Sokol said, "This is something we are embracing and looking into. We're thinking, 'Maybe we would roll this out.' But the whole lifestyle idea is perfect with the suite on the island of Oahu."

Wang is opening her lifestyle store through a brand partnership with Hotels & Resorts of Halekulani Corp, but the store is owned by Donna Bebber, a 23-year Hawaii resident who is leasing the space from the resort. As the director of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Fund and principal of Gemmon LLC, a fund-raising company for nonprofit organizations, Bebber heard about the boutique through Peter Shaindlin, chief operating officer of Hotels & Resorts of Halekulani Corp."Retail is new for me, but I have an MBA. I bring a knowledge of the local market and the Asian market through my work with a group in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere," Bebber said. "I have always been very restless and this seems like a worthy challenge and something that we needed here in Waikiki."

First-year projected wholesale volume is expected to exceed $1 million, a Halekulani spokeswoman said.

The designer's debut innerwear collection will be available at the Vera Wang Boutique at Halekulani, in time for the store's grand opening festivities in February. Details are still being hammered out for the week-long occasion, which will benefit several community arts organizations.

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