SAN FRANCISCO — Black Fleece has opened its second U.S. store, a 1,600-square-foot unit on Fillmore Street in the posh Pacific Heights neighborhood here.
The store, which sports two large rooms, exposed brick walls, high ceilings and a black-painted floor, is “a San Francisco version of what we have on Bleecker Street” in New York, said Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and chief executive officer of Brooks Brothers, which owns the concept. Brooks Bros. opened its first Black Fleece unit in Manhattan’s West Village last year.
“The neighborhood fits very well with what we are doing with Black Fleece,” said Del Vecchio during a Tuesday cocktail party for locals in the new store, which blends well with the mostly independent shops in the area. Other non-indie stores in the neighborhood include Marc by Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren.
Black Fleece, which is designed by Thom Browne, has finally gained traction after a shaky start, and Del Vecchio said he expects sales for the three-year-old label to hit its $10 million plan this year. The line, which is also sold in select Brooks Bros. stores, comprises less than 5 percent of the company’s business and Del Vecchio said he’s not in much of a hurry for it to increase, preferring to look at the division as “an exercise to keep the blood flowing” at the 192-year-old company he bought in 2001.
Before opening the San Francisco Black Fleece, the company first had to get special permission since city zoning bans stores with 11 or more units from locating outside of the downtown Union Square retail district. Local merchants and residents also lodged a protest of concern.
“We went door-to-door basically to show people what Black Fleece is all about,” said Del Vecchio, of the company’s successful public image campaign.
Thomas R. Reynolds, president of the Fillmore Merchants Association, said worries over Black Fleece centered on whether “they were trying to avoid the chain store ordinance by representing themselves as a separate company with only two stores.”
However, Reynolds added, “Once they acknowledged they were part of Brooks Brothers and began introducing themselves to the neighbors, there were no problems. They’ve created a beautiful store.”
While the collaboration with Browne is one of “guest designer,” it’s clear he has put his mark on the line, which features slimmer silhouettes and his unique interpretation of Americana. “Thom Browne has complete freedom to go in the direction he wants,” said Del Vecchio.
For his part, Browne, in San Francisco for the store celebration, said he’s looking to develop Black Fleece further. “We have a team now that understands Black Fleece really well,” said Browne. Among the recent tweaks to the line, Browne said, are a softening up of the women’s wear and some lowering of price points.
Tuesday’s event was held in honor of Jennifer Siebel Newsom, wife of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and her film “Miss Representation,” and benefited the San Francisco Film Society.
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