By  on September 23, 2010

CH Carolina Herrera is up and running on Madison Avenue, just seven blocks south of the boutique for its sister label Carolina Herrera New York.

But the kickier collection with the European flair is far from piggybacking on the success of the designer’s more established signature line. Established nine years ago, CH Carolina Herrera will have 70 freestanding stores around the globe by yearend. While being the 10th locale in the U.S., the Madison Avenue store is the first in Manhattan and is one of 17 debuting this fall.

During an interview, Herrera, an Upper East Sider, said, “CH has its own style. Let’s call it classic with a modern twist. There are a lot of items you can mix it with, including Carolina Herrera New York. But it is important to allow women to come and create their own look. It’s not like, ‘This is what you have to wear.”

Initial interest in Herrera’s new uptown address has been strong, with 1,000 people checking out the boutique on Fashion’s Night Out — a promising jump start for the new location. “I think the economy is getting better. Every woman I know is trying to buy something for fall,” Herrera said. “The last thing to go is fashion. Even when the economy is not working, you will go out and buy something — a pair of shoes, a coat, lipstick. Women never stop buying.”

Accessories, which typically account for 50 percent of sales in CH Carolina Herrera stores, have prominent displays near the front of the store. CH Carolina Herrera jewelry is displayed in a floor-to-ceiling glass case reminiscent of a jewelry box, and handbags rest on a series of shelves nearby. Designed to be as inviting as the rooms in a home, the 2,300-square-foot space has a series of cubbyholes for women’s wear, eveningwear and men’s wear. To encourage frequent visits and create an element of surprise, the offerings are continually changed, updated and rearranged. “We want people to come in to discover newness each time,” said president Caroline Brown.

A saddle and an eclectic mix of books are some of the unexpected items that give the store more of a lifestyle feel. The space is deceptively large, but compact compared to most other stores that have 2,600 to 3,600 square feet. In terms of clothing, trenchcoats, novelty coats such as a gray style with bell sleeves, “little dresses,” fur items, tapered pants and blouses are current key fall items. Taking a gray wool and cashmere pullover with a fox collar from a rack, Herrera said she gave one to her daughter Patricia for her birthday last week.

Typically at CH Carolina Herrera stores, accessories account for 50 percent of the total sales, women’s apparel comprises 30 percent and men’s apparel makes up 20 percent, Brown said. Handbags and shoes (which are priced between $300 and $500) have been strong right out of the gate. Lightweight leather Matryoshka bags, which are named for the Russian nesting dolls that come in a set of decreasing sizes with one placed inside the other, have been early bestsellers. Available in 12 colors and in three sizes, they retail from $495 to $585.The Andy bag, an eye-catching colorful assortment of which is strewn from a convertible in the current ad campaign, is another favorite with Gotham shoppers. The leather or stamped logo version retails around $600, while a new crocodile one is $7,305.

The CH Carolina Herrera collection retails from $495 to $10,208 compared with Carolina Herrera New York, which retails from $890 to $9,990. The secondary label has seen double-digit percentage growth each year since its inception, except for one year when a high-single-digit gain was posted, Brown said. Herrera attributes the label’s success to “a lot of word of mouth. Now we are out and about because we are here, open and advertising,” she said.

“In the past, you could put a name on a garment and that was enough. Now you need quality, the right fit, craftsmanship and style. If you have all of these combined, you will succeed,” she said.

Herrera’s daughter Carolina Herrera Baez, who designs the children’s collection and offers creative input for the CH Carolina Herrera label, said the shoes have even won her over. “I hate to wear heels, but every woman should. These I can actually wear and walk in,” she said.

She made a point of saying that she does not design the women’s collection and only offers her opinion when asked. Baez lives in Spain, where the CH Carolina Herrera collection is primarily made and is the home to 34 signature stores.“In Madrid, I see the bags everywhere. I even see fake ones now,” she said.

The children’s wear will be unveiled in the store’s lower level soon, though the location is not meant for noise control. “It looks like children’s clothing,” her mother said. “When I walk along Madison and pass the children’s shops, you can’t find many children’s clothes that look like they are for real children. There is a lot of velvet and dark colors — it looks like it is for very old people.”

With regard to youngsters ranging from nearly two years old to five, Baez said she routinely thinks what they would like when designing the children’s collection, as well as who shops at the Madison Avenue store. “I have graduated from buying clothes for me to buying clothes for them. At one point, I thought, I’m going crazy — I have a children’s clothing shopping habit.”

Herrera’s signature can —literally and figuratively — be seen throughout the store at 807 Madison Ave. The interlocking CH logo can be seen in the base of a handcrafted table, in the ceiling’s molding, on the cast-iron door and, of course, on numerous products, but like the designer’s dignified demeanor, the branding is more of a whisper than a scream. More striking is the two-sided LED wall that greets visitors upon entering the store and no doubt piques the curiosity of passers-by when illuminated at night. A series of images including ones of Matryoshka dolls, as well as shots of the designer and her collection are flashed across the screen, giving the cozy, homelike space an unexpected technological edge.

As part of the label’s plans to be located in the best cities in the world for shopping, Paris, Warsaw, Lima, São Paolo, Riyadh and Dubai are among the store openings on tap. South America, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East are key areas for growth, and domestically, there is “still a lot of opportunity’ in such major cities as Chicago, Boston and San Francisco, Brown said. Opening up the collection for wholesale distribution is being considered, but no immediate plans are in place yet.

Even though American shoppers are more inclined to buy one or two items as opposed to two or three like they used to, Herrera said she knew that kind of freewheeling spending could not last. However, the retail scene is showing signs of life, she said. “People were spending like mad. It was unreal,” Herrera said. “Now they are more open to items and special things. They are very excited and happy to go out shopping again.”

Despite fracturing two fingers an hour before her departure for her runway show, Herrera is not scaling back her to-do list. She and her daughter will fly to São Paolo for next month’s store opening. “I have all these things to do, and I am very happy to do them,” the designer said.

As for the mother-daughter dynamics, Herrera said of her daughter, “We have been working together for such a long time. It’s fun. She has great style, a good eye and she never lies to me.”

When informed of what her mother said, Baez agreed, “And she doesn’t lie to me. When I ask what she thinks, she tells me —and thank God. If your mother doesn’t do that, who will?”

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