NEW YORK — Van Laack, the 127-year-old German shirtmaker, wants consumers to know that it's not just another stuffed shirt.
This month, the company opened a 1,000-square-foot store at 340 Madison Avenue at 44th Street.
"We're one of the few high-end shirtmakers doing ladies," said Christian von Daniels, owner and chief executive officer of van Laack. "Others just put the buttons on the other side for women."
Men still want traditional oxford shirts and dress shirts, and van Laack has plenty of them, neatly folded and stacked against one wall. There's also a made-to-measure program for men. The opposite wall, which is devoted to women, is punctuated by color and prints.
"We concentrate on Italian fabrics manufactured in our own factories," said von Daniels, noting that women's accounted for 40 to 45 percent of total worldwide sales of $100 million last year. The Madison Avenue store is expected to generate $2,000 a square foot in sales, von Daniels said.
A stable German economy has enabled van Laack to expand. Since 2002, the company has opened 100 stores and its sales volume almost doubled, von Daniels said. There are 100 company-owned van Laack stores in Europe and 80 more units operated through partnerships. "We eventually want to open 10 to 15 stores on the East Coast" of the U.S., von Daniels said. "We're opening a store in Paris soon, near the Place Vendôme on Rue de la Payes."
Von Daniels chose the Manhattan location in part for its proximity to Paul Stuart, which is one block away. "Some of their customers will come here," he said, noting that the two companies share a similar sensibility. Brooks Brothers is a few doors north on Madison Avenue and Coach and J. Crew are in the neighborhood.
Women's apparel ranges from casual to career to dressy looks. There's also a small jeans collection.
Van Laack is known for its attention to detail. For example, white pants have suspenders fastened to gold buttons, and a gingham shirt has wrist ties and a small bouquet of sequin flowers near the hem. Button-down shirts have handmade pickstitching. Some shirts take more than five hours to sew by hand.A best-selling paisley print made exclusively for van Laack by Etro appears in several colorways on blouses, skirts, wrap dresses, bathing suits, bandeau tops and scarves. "We play it through the whole collection," von Daniels said.
The average price for a plain cotton shirt is $75, but other fabrics run much higher. A green silk blouse with gold buttons is $310; a white short-sleeve shirt with eyelet detail, $210; a white viscose and silk blouse with black polkadots, $310, and an organza and silk polyamide blouse with a graphic print, $300. Shirtdresses come in many styles, including a traditional design rendered in deep blue silk, a polo version, a white and gray striped one with a white bib front and a white eyelet design. Van Laack also offers blazers, raincoats, sweaters, pants and shorts, but von Daniels said, "The star on our stage is always the shirt."
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