By  on January 2, 2002


It's morning in Studio 10, the New Mart showroom owned by sisters Julia Chase and Sylvana Kessel, which means pancakes are being delivered from the cafe downstairs. "We're always about breakfast here," mused Chase, slathering peanut butter on the short stack her sister ordered.

"Then we run around all day," Kessel added, by way of explaining how they stay thin enough to model size-6 samples for buyers during markets.

Chase, the clotheshorse of the pair, opened the 3,000-square-foot showroom in 1989. A year later, Kessel ditched a public relations career to join her sister.

Today, they represent seven contemporary lines: Jill Stuart Jeans, Jewels Collection, Sweetpea, Urchin, Mo & Su, Knitline and Miguel Ibars.

The collections range from vintage denim and girlie blouses from Jill Stuart to Miguel Ibars, a Spanish men's wear designer who began turning out sharply tailored blouses for women a year ago. Knitline, a Los Angeles-based sweater collection, is a top booker with the room's boutique crowd.

While Studio 10's entryway -- a combination of cherry-wood paneling and yellow paint -- glows, the rest of the space is fitted with pale maple-wood racks and ecru walls, to provide a neutral setting for the clothes. Leather couches, a kitchen tucked in back and the sort of mirrors that take off 10 pounds help buyers unwind during hectic markets.

Vendors, including Jill Stuart Jeans owner Charles Jibara, praise the sisters as efficient businesswomen. Designer Julie Knapp of Jewels Collection said revenues generated from the Los Angeles market will surpass New York market revenues this year, thanks to Chase and Kessel.

Studio 10 raked in between $7 million to $8 million in revenues in 2001, Kessel said. She and her sister are building volume by helping vendors develop private label programs for department stores such as Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Siobhan Croy, a buyer for Nordstrom's Savvy department who has worked with Kessel for four years, said Studio 10 is "very accommodating" with immediates and on track with trend advice."What they direct us toward works," she said.

Customer support between markets is crucial to business, Kessel emphasized. "The markets are a celebration time, a time to stop in. The tough part is all the follow-up in between. That's what these stores remember."

Since Sept. 11, Kessel and Chase have added a salesperson to beef up customer service and sales calls. It's a "crucial time" for "more coverage and focus on our collections," said Kessel.

Kessel is also rigorously organized: She prepared a typed history of the showroom in anticipation of this article. "She's anal retentive," joked Chase.

Chase's style is aggressive salesmanship, including stripping right in the showroom when buyers ask to see a style tried on. "I'm not very shy," she conceded.

Despite affectionate teasing, Chase and Kessel, who originally hail from Hampstead, England, said they've rarely fought during their 11-year partnership. That is, except when there is only one sample made of a great style.

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