By  on May 15, 2007

LOS ANGELES — The luxurious, 2,000-square-foot space on Melrose Place here is retailing as Richard Lambertson and John Truex envision it, an oasis from gadgetry where sophisticated shoppers are treated as such. The launch today of Lambertson Truex’s store is a watershed event in the accessories brand’s almost 10-year history, signaling the kickoff of its retail strategy. With the backing of Samsonite, which acquired Lambertson Truex in July, seven to eight stores are planned in the next few years. Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Miami and Boston are among the cities that are being considered for stores that range from 800 to 1,500 square feet. A tour of the Melrose Place outpost starts at a wood-paneled foyer filled with handbags and clutches, winds through a men’s salon and a so-called living room of shoes, and ends at a library of bespoke handbags. All the while, an eclectic mix of music plays softly and attentive salespeople offer Champagne and seating.“The whole feeling of the store is residential,” said Lambertson, a founding partner. Picking up that thought, co-founder Truex added, “When a woman walks in, we want her to feel both Richard and me. We want her to feel our souls and our spirit.” David Lamer, president of merchandising, marketing and sales, said Lambertson Truex drew upon Lambertson’s retail background at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York, and both partners’ classic taste in store design. Lambertson and Truex collaborated with Tsao & McKown Architects to turn the one-level space, a former residence, into a retail space.“It was important for them to bring the customer into that home habitat,” Lamer said. “You are literally walking into someone’s very elegant home.”Lambertson Truex joins Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg and Carolina Hererra, among others, on the two-block strip off La Cienaga Boulevard that has become a luxury epicenter. Despite the big names, Lambertson said Melrose Place retains a neighborhood feel.“We settled on the location because Melrose Place is very intimate,” Truex added. “We really were inspired by the tranquility of it all.”The second Lambertson Truex store is set to open this summer at 692 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Although visiting that shop will “be a similar experience” to shopping at the Los Angeles store, Truex explained that elements in the unit such as fixtures, furniture and carpets will be different because they have been individually selected or designed for the spaces.“The stores are not meant to be just exhibition stores,’’ said Marcello Bottoli, chief executive officer of Samsonite. “They are real stores where we are planning to do business. We believe in retail as a strategy going forward.” For the Los Angeles store, Lambertson and Truex found a calf-high table for men’s shoes and sculptured hands for glove fitting at neighborhood antique shops. A modern, silver candelabra-like chandelier designed by the pair hangs in the shoe room, and 19th-century wood and glass cases hold overnight-style bags in the men’s section. Like the suede lining and pockets in Lambertson Truex’s handbags, details, including hidden mirrors, pullout panels and shoe shelving in interlocking Ls and Ts for the brand’s initials, reveal themselves only after careful inspection. “You discover that is what the store is about,” Truex said.Laughing as Lambertson decorated tables with tulips, Truex continued, “You can see we are very hands-on.”The store’s initial merchandise is a mix of spring and fall offerings. Lambertson Truex handbags generally are priced from $1,100 to $20,000 for exotic-skin pieces. Lamer said the average Lamberston Truex price point in the 35 stores the brand sells to is about $3,000, but the branded stores’ average price point is expected to be $3,000 to $5,000. Lamer and Bottoli emphasized that the stores will give the brand an opportunity to grow its men’s and bespoke categories. Bespoke items constitute about 30 percent of the handbag business, Bottoli said. Lamer added that men’s products make up about 12 percent of total sales but could reach 20 to 25 percent as the stores expand. Neckwear, priced from $125 to $195, is being introduced in the fall. “There is no reason for this business and our strategies to not be able to keep us a very special luxury brand, [and] to ultimately capture significant growth of up to 300 to 400 percent in the next couple of years,” Lamer said. “Stores are pivotal for us. It allows us to showcase the product and extend the [brand’s] reach. Once those begin to have traction, that is when you will see sizable growth.”Bottoli is not focused on stores catching on immediately. Building the retail business slowly, but steadily, will be key. He estimated it would take about three years before the stores are humming along.“Nobody is in a rush here,” he said. Bottoli, however, will be watching whether the Los Angeles store attracts multiple customer trips. “It is really about the return customer and how people are going to be loyal to the brand in the store,” he said. “We will ask ourselves the question in 2009 whether it was the right step, and I am absolutely certain that it will be.”

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