By  on August 10, 2007

EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — Elie Tahari wants to transform his label into a lifestyle brand with a network of freestanding boutiques worldwide and new categories such as home and fragrance.

To him, the new flagship here, which is being unveiled with a party on Saturday night and opens to the public Sunday, serves as a milestone to further his image and help achieve his goal of eventually building a $1 billion company. The store is located at 1 Main Street on the corner of Newtown Lane — arguably the town's equivalent of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.

"This is the best image-building you can create, the best piece of advertising anyone could have," said Tahari, in a walk-through of the 5,000-square-foot space on Thursday.

The store is also a nod to Tahari's retail philosophy, which is about building relationships with his customers rather than just making a sale for the sake of a quick buck.

"It's not just a one-night stand, it's not just about a date," he said. "It's not about her purchasing something and you don't see her again. It's about her coming in, experiencing the lifestyle inspiration and wanting to come again.

"It's about stimulating all the senses, from the visual, to sound, smell and taste," he added.

To that end, Tahari made sure natural light streams through the red brick building, cool summer sounds pump through the sound system, bowls filled with apples and almonds are dotted throughout the stores, and drinks are being served at all times, in an environment of cool vintage furniture, coffee-table books and home decor items by other designers.

"This is no longer just a clothing store," he said. "Everything here is for sale. The idea is to get the customer stimulated and inspired. I want our customers, who have an hour to spend and don't know where to go, to say, 'Let's go to Elie Tahari.'"

First-year sales projections for the store are $4 million to $5 million.

Tahari had his eye on the building — a former post office that more recently housed Calypso and several offices — for seven years. When he finally purchased it in 2005 for $8 million, he and his team embarked on massive renovations, gutting the interior and completely rebuilding it. Architect Piero Lissoni concocted a modernist inside with 100-year-old stained oak made to look like driftwood, a stark glass skylight with mirrored panels to enhance the light and a two-story glass case structure that houses the shoe salon and leads to the grand staircase."The whole interior is designed to resemble an East Hampton beach resort," Tahari said.

"People come here in the summer because they want to be outside," he added. "Because of the amount of light, they really feel as if they're in the Hamptons."

The main floor features vignettes of all his product categories, which now include women's and men's wear as well as footwear and his launch handbag collection for fall, while the second floor homes in on a more extensive assortment of his apparel. Throughout, the store is dotted with art Tahari and his wife, Rory, have collected over the years. There is a collection of midcentury furniture Rory Tahari curated with interior designer Amy Lau, including pieces by Tapio Wirkkala, Poul Kjaerholm, Arne Norell, Hans Wegner and Vladimir Kagan. It also offers a mix of vintage jewelry that Rory Tahari put together with jewelry designer and collector Jill Heller, and other items such as Ted Muehling china and crystal ware, Molton Brown candles, Lobmeyr bowls, an iPod Underwater system by Ego, Torso candles by Michele Oka Doner and even a coloring book designed by Rory Tahari.

"The project became a store about ourselves and what we love," she said. "We're giving customers an edited collection of our taste. I don't think we intended it to be this way, but it evolved into a passion project."

And, added Elie Tahari, "if you keep the family entertained, the wife shops."

The store offers many Hamptons exclusives, including a sequined dress with a chiffon overlay for $598, a taupe sheared mink coat for $14,500 and a crocodile version of the Zoe half-moon-shaped handbag for $6,300.

Elie Tahari has been going out to the Hamptons for almost 20 years, and he said he has a particular affection for East Hampton.

"East Hampton has a very creative, talented and affluent community," he said, explaining his reasons for opening his biggest store to date here. "Some of the best people from Manhattan and all over the country live in this town, whether they are in finance, movies, fashion or publishing."

Some may raise an eyebrow at the fact that Tahari invested so heavily in a town that has its heaviest traffic in summer, but he does not seem perturbed. The store serves to set a worldwide standard for his company. And with East Hampton's increasingly international crowd, it is also an introduction of the brand to the world. Elie Tahari opened a Milan showroom last year and wholesales the collection to stores such as Tsum in Moscow, Quartier 206 in Berlin, Gio Moretti in Milan and Joyce in Hong Kong.Freestanding retail will be a key tool for worldwide growth, and the designer disclosed he has been in discussions with Joyce to open Tahari specialty stores in China, and with Harvey Nichols in Turkey and Dubai to open stores in those regions. "It's part of the brand-building," he said. "We can have 30 stores in the U.S. and probably 50 stores worldwide," he said.

Tahari also said there have been internal discussions about creating a signature fragrance, and a home collection, though no specifics have been determined.

"This is the beginning of a new era at Elie Tahari," he said, and with a nod to his new Hamptons store, added, "It will be a dream if we can have this type of presence in all luxury areas in the world."

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