WESTWOOD, N.J. —“I love it, I love it,” squealed Julia, age 5 3/4, waxing enthusiastic about an outfit she was trying to convince her mother to buy for her. “Take the tags off. I’ll wear it forever.”
The elated cries came from a dressing room at Daisy & Lilly: A Girl’s Best Friend on a recent afternoon. Girls seem to get excited about what they find at the 2,000-square-foot store housed in a renovated Victorian home on Center Avenue, a semi-residential street in this affluent Bergen County community.
With its four-foot-high mural of Daisy and Lilly (two Jack Russell terriers) painted on polystyrene tiles to look like stone frescos and the real Daisy lounging in the window seat; merchandise such as watering-can-shaped handbags, and kits for making everything from memory books to embellished jeans, it’s clear that the store was conceived just for them.
It’s one of the few places to find dressy dresses and casual clothes in sizes 4 to 6X and 7 to 16 that’s accepted by both girls and their moms. In the fall, the first Daisy & Lilly will add juniors because its customers, many in the 10-to-12-year-old range, are growing up.
By popular demand, owners Digna Rodriguez-Poulton and Simon Poulton in March opened Daisy & Lilly Grown-Up across the street for the mothers of the original store’s clientele, who begged for clothes with a similar sensibility in their own size range.
You won’t find overtly sexed-up styles such as see-through blouses or belly shirts at the first Daisy & Lilly, or its older sibling, for that matter. Rodriguez-Poulton isn’t a fan of the Britney Spears school of fashion.
“I’m worried about the message we as a society are sending girls,” she explains. “There’s a difference between fashion and trendy, inappropriate things. A lot of times when girls wear things like that they feel very self-conscious. It invites attention that they’re not emotionally equipped to deal with.
“Girls all aspire to be older,” she adds. “We want them to be older with a taste level.”
The couple have no children, except for Daisy, Poulton says. They are expecting Lilly as soon as they can get a Jack Russell puppy. “We’ve sort of adopted everyone else’s kids,” he adds.At the Grown-Up store, “We don’t pander to the women who go to the gym, wear a size 0 and want the grooviest, trendiest thing,” says Poulton. “Lines like Fibers, and Supply and Demand, have a more womanly fit. They’re not the Juicy Couture fit.”
“Young moms want to dress nice but look functional,” says Rodriguez-Poulton, who calls the store’s style “car-pool chic,” adding, “Women want casual things, but this woman is more conscious of her age and doesn’t want to look ridiculous.”
In addition to Milly, Trina Turk, Cynthia Steffe, Three Dots, Single and XCVI Wearables, Daisy & Lilly Grown-Up carries FRx Clothing jeans, noted for their contoured waistband, which hugs the small of the back.
The two Daisy & Lillys opened under difficult circumstances. The girl’s store’s scheduled opening on Sept. 11, 2001 was delayed until November. “We had all this back-to-school merchandise in our home,” says Poulton. “Amid this global horror, we dug our way out of a hole.” Meanwhile, the women’s store had the Iraq War and six weeks of rain in May and June to contend with.
Nonetheless, the girl’s store hit it’s first year mark of $500,000 in sales and the women’s unit is expected to do the same in its first year.
Both stores have a unique decor. Rodriguez-Poulton has a sharp eye for design and merchandising.
The first floor of the girls’ store, where party dresses and dressier separates from Betsey Johnson for Girls and Monkey Wear, and accessories are located, is painted the soothing shade of Benjamin Moore Blue 795. Prices range from $60 to $180 for a dress.
The upstairs, painted in Sherwin Williams’ American Cheese, features Hollywood and Tractor jeans, Un Deux Trois and other casual fare, priced from $25 to $60. The couple will also produce a Daisy & Lilly collection.
An area called “My Room” is filled with gifts, books and Hello Kitty and Choco Cat products and decorated with a bead curtain made of oversized pompoms; crystals hanging from ribbons, plaques with legends such as Ballerina and Happiness, and paint-by-numbers canvases.Grown-Up, housed in a 2,000-square-foot renovated colonial, has exotic red walls accented with the same shade of American Cheese paint, black and white floor tiles, Modigliani reproductions hanging on the walls and a white cashwrap with black detailing.
The couple is well aware of the dearth of apparel specialty store concepts and plans to open additional stores or franchise their two models. “We absolutely want to open more stores,” says Rodriguez-Poulton, “but it has to stay small because it has to be special.”
Plus, she and Poulton like the flexibility of owning their own business. “When we have to take markdowns, we take markdowns,” Poulton says. “We don’t have to go into a meeting.”
Poulton and Rodriguez met in the late Eighties. Poulton, who had been vice president of production at Willie Wear, switched gears to computer-aided design. In 1989, Rodriguez, who was director of product development at Chaus, was in the market for a CAD system and turned his company. “I never bought the product,” she says, “but I found a husband.”
After they were married, they both went on to other jobs, Rodriguez working for Viacom where she opened the company’s store and learned about branding and intellectual property, and then Nickelodeon, which was her first contact with children.
The couple admits that they opened Daisy & Lilly because they believe mainstream apparel retailing lost its luster. “I grew up at a time when Bloomingdale’s was India,” she says.
But why focus on girls? “I just like girls so much,” she explains. “They’re so open and experimental. Also I don’t think I’ve ever grown up. I guess it’s a case of arrested development.”
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