CHICAGO — If only the weather would cooperate.

Teams of Chicago women, seemingly eager to buy colorful maxidresses adorning the windows of Bebe Stores Inc.’s new trilevel flagship on Oak Street, filled dressing rooms for the store’s opening party earlier this month. The only roadblock remained the city’s chilly, drizzly 40-degree early April weather.

It’s those troubling temps that have hurt business more than the economy here, said Greg Scott, Bebe’s chief executive officer.

“Chicago seems not to have had the same issues as the rest of the country,” he said. “It’s just the weather. The good thing is, our client, as soon as she sees the sun, she’s out in the store shopping.”

Bebe’s counting on that trend as the Brisbane, Calif.-based retailer extends its presence in the Windy City, unveiling its new 7,500-square-foot flagship on Oak Street and launching a new 3,300-square-foot store set to open this summer along Damen Avenue in the city’s trendy Bucktown neighborhood.

Business in Chicago is on the rise following a lull dating to early 2000, Scott said.

“This market has grown tremendously for us here,” he said. “Chicago in the last two years has come back into its own.”

And Scott said both new Chicago stores will feature merchandise suited to their locations. For the larger Oak Street store, which draws locals and tourists alike, the bright white-walled and white tiled-floor decor reflects that of Bebe’s Rodeo Drive flagship and features a first floor full of dresses, handbags, shoes and sunglasses, Scott said, noting accessories have been the company’s fastest growing category. Specific items include $138 gladiator sandals, $149 straw totes with leather trim and $149 maxidresses.

The second floor, meanwhile, will house outerwear, suiting pieces and sportswear, including a $119 organza trench and $79 organza sheer ruffle blouse. The third floor contains its first-ever “Club Bebe” level where the retailer highlights its rhinestone T-shirts and tanks, including a $39 logo crown and hearts tank, as well as its denim, accented by marquee lighting, dancing poles, and gold fixtures.

This story first appeared in the April 16, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It feels like a club,” Scott said of the store’s top level. “It’s celebrating branded Bebe.”

The retailer’s new Damen Avenue space, which Scott describes as more boutiquelike in nature, will feature more one-of-a-kind pieces.

When that store opens, Bebe will have eight locations in Chicago and its suburbs.

To illustrate his commitment to the city, Scott, while in town, judged the School of the Art Institute’s “Behind the Seams” event in which three senior fashion students were awarded $1,500 cash prizes on behalf of Bebe.

Beyond the Windy City, Bebe plans to open roughly 35 stores in the next year, including a 6,500-square-foot flagship at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Honolulu. The company also will remodel or expand some 10 other locations, such as stores at Topanga Plaza Shopping Center in Canoga Park, Calif.; Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., and Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y.

It operates 288 stores, including Bebe Sport and Bebe outlets in the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Canada. Internationally, Bebe licenses some 19 stores in Dubai, Singapore, Mexico City and other locations, with some of its strongest comps coming in at the international level, Scott said.

On April 10, Bebe Stores reported that retail sales for the 13-week period ended April 5 were $147.5 million, down 2.5 percent from $151.3 million for the 14-week period ended April 7, 2007, which included about $10 million in additional sales due to the extra week in fiscal 2007.

This month, the retailer will feature one or two capsule collections from new indie designers through the Bebe “design lab” overseen by Manny Mashouf, Bebe’s founder and chairman. The company also plans to continue its collaboration with Tara Subkoff, founding designer of Imitation of Christ, including a capsule collection in May and one for fall.

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