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Sigrid Olsen Tries Hand at Retail

Sigrid Olsen’s Chestnut Hill, Mass., store is the first step in a modest retail rollout planned for better-priced label, with four more units on tap.

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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The briny fog and spastic downpours aside, nothing could truly rain on Sigrid Olsen’s parade as she opened her first store in this affluent Boston suburb on Friday.

This story first appeared in the August 6, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Olsen came hours early to inspect the 2,000-square-foot door at the Mall at Chestnut Hill. She meandered through, delighting in the gouged-oak shelving and the “found objects” — a Chinese rice basket filled with dried lavender, a teak chair — that provide a rustic foil for her collections. Yet, there’s modernity, as well, in squared, chunky tables and white, bleached-oak floors that mirror the ones in Olsen’s home.

“I’ve been dreaming about retail for a long time,” she said. “And I wanted exactly what we have here, which is a very faithful representation of the brand. I love the feeling of the primitive mixed with the modern.”

The Chestnut Hill store is the first step in a modest but important retail rollout that parent company Liz Claiborne Inc. has planned for the Wakefield, Mass.-based better-priced label. In September, a multilevel Sigrid Olsen flagship will bow on Boston’s Newbury Street, followed by doors in White Plains, N.Y., Boca Raton, Fla., Troy, Mich. and Richmond, Va.

An additional 10 to 15 doors are slated for 2004, said Mark Walsh, Claiborne’s president of specialty retail, who attended the opening. He’s also overseeing the company’s push to open freestanding stores across its divisions, based on the success of its Lucky Brand chain. Ellen Tracy and Mexx boutiques will both bow in September, in Manhasset, N.Y., and on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, respectively. They join Claiborne’s existing 218 specialty units. Together with 260 outlets and nearly 500 international concession stores, the firm’s stores produced net sales of $384 million during the first half.

Apart from dovetailing with the parent company’s own strategic direction, the new stores play off the successes of other retailers such as Chico’s and Eileen Fisher, which show just how avid the 50-plus customer is for concepts dedicated to her.

“Fifty-year-old women are not what you think,” said Olsen, herself 50, who with her Scandinavian hair and complexion could make an ideal model for a Dove soap commercial. “They want clothes with a little pizzazz, not something camouflaging your entire body.”

She described her own aesthetic as falling between the nonstop novelty of Chico’s and the simplicity of Eileen Fisher.

The August and July deliveries — a roughly equal mix of the brand’s Collection, Sport and denim-based So Blue lines — show off Olsen’s flair with knits and predilection for colors, such as a tweed jacket with fringed cuffs in olive, melon and burgundy at $198. To date, Olsen has not designed anything exclusively for the store, but said she may use it to test items.

“There’s a little seed of a lifestyle store here. As we move forward and we start to expand, we hope to have home furnishings, as well,” she said, adding the company is looking at a 2005 launch for the category.

Her retail instincts are well-honed. Entering the dressing area, she is pleased by the generous space but wonders, “How many husbands will want to sit down in those chairs?” about two suspiciously delicate, bentwood numbers.

There’s another detail Olsen hasn’t quite worked out. An artist, her original works hang in the dressing room. Are they, too, for sale?

“We probably should have a plan for that because I think it’s going to happen,” she laughed.

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