MEMPHIS — After 40 years, James Davis is trying to recapture its youth.
Already known for its luxury looks like a cashmere shawl with chinchilla roses at $1,795 by Loro Piana, a black rabbit coat by Cassin for $2,695 and designer lines such as Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Badgley Mischka, the store’s owners are reaching out with a new contemporary area to attract a younger generation and new-money customers, as well.
“We’ve been called the ‘Barneys of the South,’” said K.K. Weinberg, who, with her husband, Van, owns the women’s and men’s specialty store frequented by the Memphis old-money crowd for generations. “The nicest compliment we’ve had was from a well-traveled customer, who said she no longer enjoyed shopping on trips to Europe or New York because everything she wants is here. We don’t have as many vendors, but we do carry the lines and items you would only find in a Barneys or Bergdorf Goodman.”
A 40th-anniversary bash, held at the store Oct. 24, had elegant touches: a harpist, an ice sculpture and a full house of loyal customers and friends, such as Brad Martin of Saks Inc., basketball’s Jerry West and John Calipari, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Hickey-Freeman’s Paulette Garafalo.
The original 3,500-square-foot men’s store was founded in 1962 by James Davis, Van Weinberg’s uncle, and backed financially by Weinberg’s father, Lew, who attended the party, and turned 88 the following day. Davis died in the early Nineties.
The store added a spattering of women’s apparel in 1982, responding to customer requests. Now, women’s wear sales are on target to reach $3.6 million this year, with men’s expected to hit $7.4 million at the 12,000-square-foot location.
Women’s has come a long way from the traditional men’s wear-inspired early days. K.K. Weinberg and daughter Leigh Abby shop New York 10 times a year and Europe twice annually for core designer lines, such as Giorgio Armani, Badgley Mischka, Dolce & Gabbana, St. John and Piazza Sempione, not easily found in Memphis, a city with Belk’s and Dillard’s, but few high-end stores.
New finds, such as Etro from Milan, add to a range of bridge-priced resources, including John Patrick, whose eponymous designer attended the party, Burberry and Barry Bricken, and sweaters by White + Warren and Belford. Around 10 percent is eveningwear, although sportswear is the fastest-growing, highest-volume area.
“Women no longer want to spend $6,000 on an evening gown that they only wear once,” she said. “But they will spend money on a wonderful item, like a shearling or rabbit coat.” Cassin’s rabbit jacket, at $2,695, sold eight units this fall.
After a complete renovation that expanded women’s areas two years ago, an 1,800-square-foot area is being converted to attract young contemporary customers, set to open in January. Four years ago, the Weinbergs bought U.S. Male, a Memphis-based men and women’s specialty denim chain. After closing seven of eight units, the remaining U.S. Male will be incorporated within James Davis.
About 75 percent of the new area will house women’s product, much of it exclusive to Memphis. Jeans offerings include Armani and Deisel at $100 to $200, with contemporary represented by lines such as BCBG and Betsey Johnson. With separate decor, fixtures and music, the space is intended to draw younger customers, extending the store’s reach.
“This will be a place where mothers can take their daughters,” Weinberg added.