By  on August 1, 2007

Free People, in December, will open a two-level, 6,000-square-foot store at 79 Fifth Avenue in New York's Flatiron District. It will be its first store in Manhattan.

The brand, which is part of Urban Outfitters Inc., was launched in 1984 as a division that made clothes for Urban stores. Free People started selling its clothing to other retailers in 1990 and now has 1,500 specialty store accounts. Nordstrom has often cited Free People as one of its top brands.

Free People, in 2002, opened its first store — mainly as an advertising vehicle — at Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. The unit's success convinced the company to open additional stores, and there are now 11 stores in the chain. The company has said that it eventually hopes to open 100 stores.

Free People, which appeals to women in their 20s, takes an eclectic approach to fashion, layering different textures and colors for an offbeat bohemian look. While most of the apparel is private label, stores sell jeans by True Religion, at $288, and Goldsign, $198. The clothing has a handmade quality. Examples of current Free People looks include Fair Isle baby-doll sweaters, $78; sweater coats with ruffle sleeves, $168, and paisley print dresses, $138. Prices for shoes and jewelry can exceed $300. Like Urban Outfitters' Anthropologie brand, Free People sells some furniture, such unusual pieces as a vintage steamer trunk for $2,700 and a French reproduction chair covered in bright pink and blue quilts from Rajasthan, India.

The division's performance has been strong. Free People had a comp-store sales increase of 8 percent in the first quarter ended April 30, and wholesale business jumped 12 percent. For the fourth quarter ended Jan. 31, comp-store sales advanced 4 percent and wholesale sales jumped 29 percent.

Residents, office workers and shoppers in the Flatiron District seem to favor young, trendy apparel. H&M, Club Monaco, Coach and Jo Malone have stores in the neighborhood, as does Anthropologie. Kate Spade, Miss Sixty and G-Star are all coming soon. Restaurants such as Eleven Madison Park, Craft Bar, Gramercy Tavern, Mesa Grill and BLT Prime also drive traffic.

Free People is looking for additional stores in Manhattan, said Robert K. Futterman, who represented the tenant and is chief executive officer of the real estate company bearing his name. "They're looking on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, downtown and the boroughs, and they just opened a store in Greenwich, Conn.," he said. "They really fit into the Flatiron neighborhood. There's some youthfulness to the Flatiron District. The neighborhood is on fire." Asking rents are $250 to $350 per square foot, he said.The design of Free People stores is as offbeat as the merchandise. Some have a loft apartment feel, others have a greenhouse style and some have a modern sensibility. Handmade fixtures and carefully selected music contribute to the atmosphere.

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