NEW YORK — Ellen Tracy has finally planted its feet on the ground.

The first store devoted to the brand quietly opened earlier this month at Long Island’s Americana Manhasset shopping center. It is the first of what could be 10 to 12 doors to open under the nameplate during the next three to five years.

“This being our first store, it was important that we hit the mark right away,” said Glenn McMahon, who took over as president of Ellen Tracy shortly after the firm’s September 2002 acquisition by Liz Claiborne Inc. “This, by far, exceeded our expectations.”

Retail has been an ambition of the company for some time and the appearance of Claiborne’s deep pockets on the scene helped bring that dream to reality.

“Ellen Tracy retail obviously was something that was in discussion for many years,” said McMahon, who returned to the brand after stints at Donna Karan, Armani and as president of Kenneth Cole women’s sportswear, also a division of Claiborne.

Things came together quickly, though, once the ball got rolling.

Just nine months before the concept became reality, S. Russell Groves, principal of the architectural and interior design firm that bears his name, met with Linda Allard and Herbert Gallen to talk about the store. The pair, who were the heart and soul of the brand for 40 years, retired in August.

Groves came away from the meeting with a mission: create a showcase for the Ellen Tracy brand in a setting that is at once modern, residential and luxurious. It had to feel American, too. As McMahon noted, “We do classic American sportswear with a trend twist.”

Groves went to the drawing board to meld those elements and came back with a layout encompassing just under 4,000 square feet of selling space. The store is readily understandable — an essential American trait — with a spread that mixes in tables and places to sit, which make the store resemble a casual, elegant home.

After passing through its glass doors, shoppers find themselves in an area akin to a foyer, complete with framed photos from ad campaigns. A picture of Allard and Gallen is there, as well, watching over the store. “It’s a fun way to make it feel residential,” Groves said.One side of the store is left open, while the other is divided among the entrance area and two other bays with the air of individual rooms. Looks from the Linda Allard Ellen Tracy line hang on the walls and from boxy, patina brass fixtures with wood bases set about the store. Ellen Tracy accessories are casually displayed throughout the space.

For resting, there is a mid-century Florence Knoll replica couch covered in blond cowhide. Other furnishings, including round tables with floral centerpieces and glass-top displays, are constructed of walnut, teak and ebony. The floor is ebonized oak.

“The interior needs to be a backdrop to the clothing,” said Groves. “It should be married to the brand, but not overwhelming.”

As such, the store calls to passersby through large windows, each of which features a single mannequin set to the side. Rather than a handful of looks, the windows showcase the easy-going atmosphere of the store and invite in natural light and shoppers.

The back wall is cream-colored travertine marble. It makes for a clean look that would lean toward minimalism if clothes weren’t displayed on its face. Future stores will also feature travertine and carry much of the same presence.

Fitting rooms are to the rear and sport woven-straw wall coverings and full-length mirrors with adjustable flaps on either side for a side view. Obscured from the shoppers’ sight is the cash register, which requires shoppers to plunk down anywhere from $195 for layering pieces to $2,400 for outerwear.

While the firm declined to offer up revenue estimates, industry trends indicate stores of this nature often bring in sales per square foot of $450, making for annual volume of almost $1.8 million.

Having made the step into retail, Ellen Tracy plans to continue its expansion with an international presence, as well as more licensing agreements. Already, licenses include footwear, belts, eyewear and handbags. While there are no plans to launch freestanding stores under the name in Europe or Japan, the firm expects to start selling its goods there through department and specialty stores by fall 2004.

McMahon said the move abroad should be eased by the high-end customer’s familiarity with the brand. “We’re already dealing with an international customer, but not in their home,” he said.The acquisition and the subsequent expansion it made possible seem to have reinvigorated the business. As McMahon said, there’s “a whole new energy behind the brand.”

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