By  on October 7, 2008

NEW YORK — Juicy Couture opened the doors of its latest flagship on Monday morning at 650 Fifth Ave. here — and hordes of shoppers who had been lining up outside rushed in.

“I didn’t know what to think since we were opening on a Monday,” said Philip Johnson, vice president of creative services at Juicy Couture. “But this is nuts, we haven’t stopped since we unlocked the front doors.” The new 12,000-square-foot space is by far the largest of the 75 stores the Liz Claiborne, Inc.-owned brand operates, including three other shops in Manhattan. The location used to house Claiborne’s largest, but poorest performing, direct brand, Mexx, and before that, it was a Liz Claiborne brand store. Clearly not wanting to lose the prime spot on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, Claiborne chose to fill the space with its best-performing brand, Juicy Couture. And after spending over a year building it out, Johnson said it was well worth the wait.

“This is our biggest expression of who the founders, Pam [Skaist-Levy] and Gela [Nash-Taylor], are — it showcases the entire Juicy lifestyle in this modern, luxurious design,” he said as three teenage girls crowded around a nearby jewelry case, squealing and jumping up and down when they saw the newest Juicy New York charm they could add to their already crowded charm bracelets. The charm is available exclusively at the new store, a fact that seems to make them even more excited. “We wanted this store to be like entertainment, a place that people want to shop in a poor economy — somewhere they can come and laugh and be entertained,” said Johnson.

The space houses the full Juicy Couture assortment, which ranges from $15 for a pair of socks to $6,000 for a Couture Couture mink coat. On the first floor, shoppers are greeted by cases of jewelry — watches, bracelets, rings, etc. — a fragrance bar, handbag wall, men’s wear area, pet accessories and key fashion items. Up the concrete and iron staircase, there’s a shoe salon, intimates shop and tracksuit bar, as well as a children’s apparel area, Couture Couture shop and random accessories scattered on shelves. In early November, the store will add a Dylan’s Candy Bar shop. Johnson said he designed the store with “hidden surprises” around every corner — such as with the taxidermy deer heads wearing makeup and pearl necklaces on the walls, an oversize black wooden chair covered with stuffed black birds, mannequins wearing tutus over their velour tracksuits and regal-looking chairs in the dressing rooms spray-painted with signature sayings such as “Let Them Eat Couture” and “Go Couture Yourself.”

One of the store’s most eye-catching elements is the exterior, which showcases a limestone facade resembling an old English manor house, encased in a glossy brass and glass storefront.

“The storefront says it all, mixing modern luxury with that sense of humor that Pam and Gela are so well known for,” Johnson said. “The inspiration of the exterior comes from Gela’s home in England and Pam’s home in Hollywood.”

While Claiborne, which posted a loss of $23.2 million in the second quarter, continues to suffer, the Juicy Couture brand was a clear leader in the direct brands division, with sales in the quarter increasing 48 percent to $148 million. By the end of this year, there will be 62 Juicy Couture stores in the U.S. alone. In the spring, the company is planning to open its first store in London, as well as a Choose Sleep intimates store in Las Vegas. Juicy Couture plans to open 35 to 45 stores in 2009.

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