NEW YORK — It's been 10 years since Maria Cornejo settled here from Paris, and she is treating herself to something special in this milestone year — a second home for her Zero label.
Cornejo, who already has a boutique and atelier at 225 Mott Street, just opened an 800-square-foot boutique at 807 Greenwich Street, between Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District. The designer maintained that the timing couldn't be better: As fashion moves away from beaded and embellished looks toward a cleaner, more architectural aesthetic, it's playing in Cornejo's court. She is also a finalist for this year's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for fashion.
"I always wanted to have more stores rather than to be too spread out with department stores," she said. "I like to have our own stores because you can control your own image so much more."
It features curved wooden screens that cover the changing rooms in the back, and organic-looking rocks and tree trunks to display merchandise. "Eventually, we want to have a decking floor to give it more of an outdoors look," she said.
Retail prices range from $205 to $1,100, and Cornejo said she plans to experiment with men's wear at the new location. "There seems to be a lot of men around the Village," she noted.
Cornejo, who was born in Chile and raised in the U.K., has given her modernist touch to a variety of collections over the last two decades. In the Eighties, she cofounded the Richmond Cornejo label with British designer John Richmond and designed collections for European retail chains Jigsaw and Tehen. She and her husband, photographer Mark Borthwick, moved here in 1996. In 2001, Cornejo had signed a production and distribution contract with Onward Kashiyama USA to build her wholesale distribution network, but the deal ended three years ago.
Over the past few seasons, Cornejo expanded Zero's wholesale distribution to more than 20 doors, including Barneys New York, Ikram in Chicago, Satine in Los Angeles, and the Holt Renfrew chain in Canada. For 2006, the company projects combined wholesale and retail sales in the region of $2 million. On Greenwich Street, it hopes to generate sales of at least $750 per square foot for the first year.The designer has been raising her profile with several moonlighting gigs in recent months. This spring, she collaborated with Keds for a collection of skimmers and ballet flats in Lurex and brown jacquard. "I wanted a shoe to use with my collection for spring, so we asked Keds if they were interested in collaborating," Cornejo said. "Since I don't have a shoe license and am not into super-high heels, Keds epitomized something stylish, comfortable, and very urban." The Keds, which have a suggested retail price of $138, are available in Cornejo's stores as well as at her wholesale accounts.
Cornejo also recently designed the uniforms for of-the-moment downtown eateries Morimoto and Buddakan. The Morimoto uniforms are culled from Japan's minimalist aesthetic meshed with urban touches. She created cropped black pants with zipper details for the women that are worn with Obi jackets that have curved sleeves. Buddakan offers French-Asian fusion fare, so Cornejo went for a sexy, more flirtatious aesthetic with black lamé plissé dresses and wide-leg satin pants accessorized with shrunken shrugs for a more "coquettish" feel, she said.
"That was a really good experience," she said. "As a designer, I enjoy working with certain limitations because, as strange as it may sound, you end up being more creative working around the limitations. It's also nice to see the clothes on real people in sizes from four to 12."
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