Marc by Marc Jacobs is expanding on all fronts, clipping along as fast as its sales of bangle bracelets, clutch wallets and other items.
There's a new 4,700-square-foot emporium in Savannah, Ga., and a petite 400-square-foot seasonal store in Provincetown, Mass., the summer community at the tip of Cape Cod. Both pay homage to their local markets with custom merchandise and assortments, a trend that savvy brands are adopting to give each door a connection to its locale, even as the parent builds a substantial chain. Marc by Marc Jacobs operates 82 stores around the world and plans to open about a half-dozen more, from Moscow to Chicago, by November.
Savannah has charmed Marc Jacobs International president Robert Duffy, who recently purchased a house in the city, which is known for its quirky ambience, moss-covered oaks and distinctive architecture.
"People don't realize how sophisticated Savannah is now," Duffy said. "Twenty years ago, New Englanders and New Yorkers complained that they couldn't shop there. Now, the tourists are amazing, with affluent Europeans and South Americans, and retail is becoming more sophisticated, too."
The unit, equal in size to Marc by Marc Jacobs' largest store, in Los Angeles, opened April 9 in a restored building on Broughton Street in the downtown historic district. In addition to the complete line of Marc by Marc Jacobs men's and women's apparel, shoes and accessories, the store carried a onetime launch offering of T-shirts, tote bags and beach towels with "Savannah'' printed on them.
Early sales have been strong and on several days have beaten all other Marc by Marc stores, Duffy said.
"Shoppers, both locals and tourists, have been existing customers who are familiar with the line, and have bought it in New York or elsewhere," Duffy said.
The store, designed by architect Stephan Jaklitsch, has an industrial feeling, with high ceilings and a navy blue poured concrete floor. Merchandise is displayed on oversize picnic tables and shelves. Prices range from $150 to $200 for separates and blouses to $350 to $600 for dresses, and average $200 for shoes.Duffy likes the offbeat location because there are few big retailers.
"We don't go to a Michigan Avenue or Rodeo Drive kind of location," he said. "We don't want to be next to Neiman Marcus, because we already sell to them."
Duffy said the Savannah College of Art and Design, which has played a role in Savannah's recent renaissance, also influenced his choice to live in the city. "Our customer database has a large number of students from Savannah College of Art and Design, and we've hired interns from there," he said.
SCAD will honor Jacobs with the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement Award on May 19.
In the Marc by Marc Jacobs brand script, Provincetown has been a beloved supporting character for years.
Boutiques across the world sell T-shirts to support the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and many signature products — including $1.50 condoms tucked into matchbooks — were developed for this town before there was a store. In the new store, which had a soft opening last week on Commercial Street, the main drag, T-shirt labels read "Marc Jacobs [Heart] Ptown."
The connection is personal. Robert Duffy has spent almost 40 summers here, his family built a wing onto the museum and he owns three houses in the community.
Marc Jacobs hadn't visited in 20 years, but turned up for the launch party — two weeks out of rehab, tanned and lean from yoga and an organic diet.
"Seeing Robert so happy, I'm so grateful for our partnership," Jacobs said. "I'm grateful and proud to be a part of my own company. I have a great life."
Of the Provincetown store, Jacobs noted, "We go places where we feel a personal affinity. We don't do big, arrogant stores. We try to fit into the community rather than change the environment. We're so lucky it's worked for us."
For less than $10,000, the store's blue interior was painted and set up by a crew of four (three of whom transferred from the Newbury Store in Boston) who are living rent-free in a beachfront apartment a few blocks down Commercial Street for the summer.There is one dressing room and a surfeit of grab-and-go bikinis (for both sexes) zipped into plastic travel bags. Duffy envisions the Provincetown gig as Marc Jacobs' summer camp, a perk to reward exemplary sales staffers. The store will stay open until New Year's, but may shutter for the slowest months of winter, he said.
It's a community of artists and writers (among them, Norman Mailer as well as Michael Cunningham, who wrote "The Hours'') that shrinks to 3,500 in winter, but swells more than tenfold in the summer into one of Massachusetts' liveliest gay communities.
There are a few overtly customized products — T-shirts, sailor-print and Boston terrier tote bags, towels — but the more interesting choices come in the way of merchandise. Because even August can be brisk on the spit of land surrounded by the Atlantic, there are watch caps, windbreakers at the front and piles of sweaters, per Duffy's direction. And, of course, there are shoes, watches, handbags and sunglasses. Products range from a $1.50 lipstick pen to a $728 ivory dress with cascading ruffles, appropriate for a beach wedding.
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