MIAMI — Elie Akiba’s denim-centric store Lulu has found a new home at the Bal Harbour Shops here.
In November, Lulu relocated from its previous home of 10 years at Bal Harbour to the outdoor mall’s second level, doubling in size to 3,200 square feet. Despite reopening at a time when economic conditions were beginning to nosedive — and have yet to improve — Akiba is confident about continuing his success.
“We will never lose our edge, especially at Bal Harbour,” Akiba said. “If we don’t bring the best to our clients, there’s no reason to exist.”
While shopping habits of his largely international customer base have changed, denim remains a performer. According to Akiba, customers who used to buy three or four pairs of jeans are now homing in on a single “It” pair — a special fashion item that justifies the price. Coveted women’s looks are Swarovski buttons and rivets from True Religion, appliqués by Robin’s Jean and Current/Elliott’s slouchy, distressed boyfriend style.
“The concept is you wake up next to your boyfriend, throw on his jeans and go pick up some croissants and have breakfast in bed,” said Akiba, a Moroccan who grew up in France.
He teaches his staff to sell with this type of story in mind and familiarizes them with product through e-mail blasts and brand seminars. More than ever, he believes customer service and knowledge win.
Akiba has taken the idea of delivering service to a new level in Lulu’s latest incarnation, fashioning the store on the model of a French brasserie. A hostess greets shoppers and assigns them a server, who shows items behind a zinc bar complete with authentic trimmings such as Thonet stools, menus and complimentary drinks, from espresso to martinis. As in a typical French restaurant, discounts are given for ordering le complet. The three courses are made up of jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers. Receipts even feature a space for tips.
“We’re seeing lots of multiple sales with this method,” said Akiba.
A blend of nostalgic SoHo and Paris, decor begins with brick walls, polished cement floors and white subway tiles. Akiba located vintage globe chandeliers and sconces, installed a tin ceiling and merchandises with rustic antiques. A neon sign flashes Lulu, his childhood nickname, in lights. But his favorite element is the wall of denim fame.
“While people are trying on clothes, they’re also getting an education in the history of denim,” he said, alluding to hanging photos of Levi Strauss, Elio Fiorucci and Renzo Rosso, among others. “We’re bringing in all the big names in denim for our grand opening this February.”
The store carries around 60 denim lines. Women’s, which accounts for 50 percent of merchandise, retails from $169 for a pair of Seven For All Mankind to more than $200. The store also is stocking tie-dye and tunic-length T-shirts by Great China Wall, Salvage and Silver Dagger for $69 to $189. Akiba combs shows like Bread & Butter in Barcelona for bestsellers such as Diesel Denim Design Gallery, Levi’s Vintage, RRL and Prps, but usually waits to write in showrooms. He isn’t placing smaller orders because of the economy.
“We’re dealing with it by writing reorders based on sales rather than predicting,” he said.
Akiba expects flat sales for 2009, around 2007’s $5 million.
“The center calls us their barometer,” he said. “They know how other retailers are doing by the amount of our shopping bags walking around.”
Akiba plans to use the recession to his advantage by snapping up good real estate deals, particularly in Midtown Manhattan near Bloomingdale’s, where he’d like to open a store. Renovations on Lulu Couture, his upscale, nondenim venture in Manhasset, N.Y., are scheduled for this year, as well.
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye