By  on November 15, 2006

Elie Tahari is feeling a lot of love — so much so that in his presentation, Tahari mentioned the word 18 times. For the designer, a special kind of love for merchandise and service enables him to romance clients.

"We are not looking to have a one-time sale, a one-night stand, as I call it," Tahari said. "We are looking to develop relationships. I remember when I took my wife on a first date, and I was looking for a relationship. I made sure that I invited her home for dinner. The table was set properly, the lighting was great, the music was great, the fireplace was lit. It's no different in retailing. The store needs to be romantic and seductive. It needs to be sexy."

Just as Tahari got the girl — his wife, Rory, who is also the label's creative director — the designer has been attracting clients who have made him one of the top resources on the bridge floors, where the brand is often positioned as a segue to the contemporary area. Elie Tahari runs a $500 million business, selling to more than 600 doors in the U.S., including Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom and Macy's West. He has five freestanding boutiques and recently launched T Tahari, which is exclusive to Macy's.

It's a far cry from the mid-Seventies, when Tahari moved to New York from his native Israel with little money but lots of ambition.

In his presentation, Tahari recalled juggling two jobs at the start of his career: an electrician in the garment district and a salesman in a retail store in Greenwich Village. The early experience taught him a crucial lesson about retailing that he carries with him. "I remember a customer walking into the store, and we wouldn't let the customer walk out of the store without being in the aura of love, being serviced and making sure she [walked] out of the store happy," Tahari said.

Tahari has recently embarked on opening a chain of upscale freestanding retail units he calls "luxury stores," which have launched in Boston, Atlanta and in SoHo. They offer a selection of his empire, which keeps growing.

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