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NEW YORK — Despite the trappings of rock royalty, celebrity best friends and the glories of a monied existence, Stella McCartney has always insisted that all she wants to do is design clothes and open her own boutiques.
And that’s just what she’ll get to do tonight, when the first McCartney store bows here. Naturally, the star quotient will be high; A-list celebrities, magazine editors and the rest of the fashion flock are expected to turn up in droves for the opening, including her friends Gwyneth Paltrow and Liv Tyler.
McCartney, however, in modest famous-person manner, downplays the celebrity element of her life and her work.
“I obviously have famous friends, and they come to support me when they can,” said the designer, dressed in snug jeans and a silk camisole. Sitting contemplatively over a glass of water at Markt restaurant just down the block from her new store in the Meatpacking district, McCartney elaborated on issues of fame, “but I find that whole fashion celebrity thing a bit tough — even though I’m probably seen as one of that set, I find it a bit odd.”
She’d much rather talk retail, especially her own. At 429 West 14th Street, McCartney’s new 4,000-square-foot space is a physical manifestation of her signature masculine-feminine contrasts. The store conjures a feminine fairy-tale world with an elaborate dirty pink fabric wall of romantic painted images of animals and motifs from past collections. The opposing wall is composed of bone-colored ceramic, floral-shaped tiles.
McCartney’s feminine, vintage touches are evident in the details, which the designer wants shoppers to fondle and scrutinize.
“I felt inclined to create a luxury brand shop that welcomes you. That you could actually go into and feel like you can sit down, look at a piece of furniture or a wall fixture or the textures,” McCartney said. “I wanted it to be something more than just going in and being brainwashed into buying garments.”
A tightly edited selection of vintage trinkets hangs from the walls, printed fabric-covered drawers line a glass unit and aluminum rods in gradating shades of pale pink serve as separators for areas of the store.
Then there are the elements of surprise the designer incorporated to convey her penchant for the irreverent and cheeky — a fancy dressing room print, which upon closer inspection reveals monkeys in compromising positions, and a picture on the front door that shows off the bare backside of a woman dressed up as George Washington.
“It’s like if you look close enough, there’s a reward,” McCartney said. “If people are kind enough to try something on, then we give back to them in a way.”
The store’s minimal aspects are found in its nickel trim, terrazzo floors, modern mirrors and pillars, while a glass facade serves to offset a narrow, black infinity pool upon which mannequins are placed to give the illusion that they are walking on water.
“I wanted to have the element of water to give the store a calming effect in contrast to the urban setting,” she said.
However, McCartney’s pride and joy lies in the fantastical dressing rooms. Her favorite is an exquisite doll-like chamber with marquetry walls that were hand-made in Wales.
“The shop has a lot of my personality in it. It is very personal to me.…If there was a piece that I wouldn’t put in my home in London, then it didn’t make it into the shop,” McCartney said.
Other than creating a space that reflected her designs and her personal taste, McCartney’s emphasis was also on the experience of her customers.
“I personally don’t like shops where people are watching me, where there’s a pressure to buy or where there’s this feeling that you’re not dressed properly enough to be in there,” the designer said. “It’s something I’ve carried with me from when I was younger and didn’t really feel like I could go and spend a lot of money on clothes. So I’ve carried that with me, and I wanted people to feel like they’re allowed to be in here.”
Key pieces from the autumn-winter 2002 collection, such as chunky knit sweaters, drainpipe pants and feather printed silk chiffon dresses, are interspersed throughout the store in an unconventional fashion. The point is to showcase separates rather than head-to-toe looks.
Retail prices range from $800 to $1,700 for dresses, $300 to $700 for blouses, $345 to $750 for pants and $900 to $1,100 for jackets.
McCartney’s line is also sold in the U.S. at major retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Jeffrey, Maxfield and Fred Segal.
As with other Gucci subsidiaries, the company declined to give figures in reference to its volume, or a forecast for the store’s first-year sales. McCartney’s company is 50 percent owned by Gucci, with the designer owning the remainder.
As reported, McCartney will also open a store in London at 30 Bruton Street early next year. The area is populated with art and sculpture galleries. The company is also planning an L.A. store.
The design concept for McCartney stores, however, will vary according to the geographic location, clientele and the physical space. But certain elements remain key for the designer.
“What happens in the store in the evening is important. I’d like to have it look like a rock concert is going on with a light show,” she said, showing her rock ’n’ roll roots as the daughter of Sir Paul and the late Linda McCartney. “So even if people aren’t shopping, they’re still getting something from the store.”