NEW YORK — More than a platform to show off her hard-to-find, high-end collection, Catherine Malandrino’s new kaleidoscopic flagship is a glimpse of her expanding world.
Eighteen months after securing the 3,500-square-foot space, the French-born designer finally pulled off the wrap around the exterior of 652 Hudson Street here on Friday, much to the delight of Dawn Mello, Hannah Storm and other weekend shoppers. With its 1,600-pound handblown Italian glass chandelier, 10-year-old floor-sweeping hanging plant, handmade twisted wooden chairs, lighted Lucite tables and metallic mannequins in action poses, the Christophe Pillet-designed store gives visitors an eyeful. Not to mention the clothes.
Malandrino, the designer’s upscale collection, is the centerpiece, but her first handbags, shoes, scarves and hats are accents strategically placed throughout the store, the only place where they are available. In one corner, dragonfly pins rest on balls of country-club green moss, and one Lucite table displays spindly beachwood draped with furry scarves, patent leather and suede ankle boots and ladylike handbags. Mirrors and an oversized column made of citrus-colored glass shingles reflect the various pieces tucked away in the space, which also houses the Catherine Malandrino collection.
During a tour Monday, the designer mentioned plans to open similarly stylized stores, strengthen accessories and broaden her brand’s presence in Europe and Japan. She said last week’s opening was worth the wait. “We took our time to make it the way we had envisioned it. It was like having a baby. It took a long time to grow.”
Malandrino said she wanted to be on hand for opening weekend. “When we opened the door, it was a very emotional moment for me. I feel like my whole team is on stage, and I want them to drive the show.”
Business was so brisk over the weekend that plans for last-minute training tips for the staff went out the window, said her husband and chief executive officer, Bernard Aidan. The window could be to blame. Nearly the entire storefront is glass, giving passers-by a real sampling of what is inside. Those who wandered in bought items such as a peach $1,300 tweed bouclé jacket, a zip-front $850 sequined top and a $725 mohair shrug. With her husband perched on the semicircular citrine couch with champagne in hand, NBC’s Hannah Storm lingered for an hour before leaving with several pieces, Malandrino said.Like many of the designer’s fans, who include Halle Berry, Madonna and Julia Roberts, Storm was struck by the details, in this case a flat-screen TV playing “The Party” with Peter Sellers and color-coded stacks of Audubon books from Malandrino’s private collection. But for Malandrino, the back story is an essential part of her overall tale. “The Party” was a primary source of inspiration for her spring collection, and Warja Lavater’s picturesque fairytales are mementos from La Foundation Maeght, a museum near one of Malandrino’s favorite haunts in France, La Colombe d’Or, the historic restaurant and hotel where artists like Pablo Picasso paid their keep with art.
“For me, it was very important to find a space large enough and with a soul to express all this individuality, and a home for the collection. The Meatpacking District is an area in New York that still has a past,” she said. “We wanted this to be a free space where people can kind of get lost in it. People can sip champagne under the ‘summer rain’ chandelier. In the end, I feel this poetry comes through in the clothes.”
Malandrino, who has other stores in SoHo, East Hampton and West Hollywood, plans to open freestanding units in Paris, Bal Harbour, Fla., and Los Angeles. A concept shop is also scheduled to open at Galeries Lafayette in Paris this spring, Aidan said.
In addition to her own outposts, Malandrino’s signature collection is sold in 100 doors in the U.S., and the aim is to match that number for the upscale collection, Aidan said. Though he declined to give annual sales, he said they have been increasing by double-digit percentages each year and are expected to triple this year. Fueled by interest in the Malandrino collection, opening-day sales exceeded $100,000, and the store is on track to sell $2,000 per square foot.
With Mirabel Edgale now representing Malandrino in London and Milan, the label’s European distribution should increase from 40 doors to 60 or 80 in the next year, Aidan said. Growth is also planned for Japan, where Mitsui Safreres Group expects to boost distribution to 80 or 110 doors from 40 within the same time frame, he said.The company also sees Russia as an opportunity and is in talks with the Mercury Group to open concept shops in Tzum in Moscow and in St. Petersburg next year. Malandrino will host a trunk show in Moscow in April, before going on to Saks Fifth Avenue in Dubai. In the meantime, the designer said she expects to sign a footwear license with an Italian shoemaker by the end of the year, which she declined to name.
Like many of the finishing touches in her store, there were some opportunities that she couldn’t pass up.
“There were many emotional moments where we had to bring pieces [in decor] to our customers,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a home. When you love something, you don’t count any more.”
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