Marlowe, a maker of high-end career-wear, opens its first Chicago boutique.

Marlowe, an upscale Toronto-based women’s retailer specializing in Italian-made suits and cashmere knitwear, recently opened its first U.S. store in Chicago.

President Rocco Melito said he chose the Windy City over New York, Boston or San Francisco because many customers at the Toronto locale hailed from the Midwest, and because Chicago’s climate and feel are so similar.

"Every time I went to Chicago, it felt like home," he said.

Marlowe’s street level location at 800 N. Michigan Avenue, which also houses the Giorgio Armani and Bottega Veneta boutiques, sealed the deal.

"I loved the building," he said. "It’s very chic. I thought, ‘This is a sexy space. This is something I can work with.’"

Melito hired San Francisco-based Brand + Allen Architects, Inc., known for designing Prada’s stores in Los Angeles, Chicago and on Fifth Avenue in New York, as well as Gucci’s Hawaii store, to help create the Chicago Marlowe. The result is a sleek, sparse 3,200-square-foot space with enough room and spaciousness to highlight the clothes.

"We wanted it to be clean, simple and elegant," said Diana Elias-Cortino, Marlowe’s manager. "We wanted all your attention on the product."

Indeed, the merch has plenty of room to breath. Many sizes are kept in back so clothing racks don’t get crowded. With its roominess and abundant natural sunlight, the Chicago location serves as a prototype for future Marlowe stores, with San Francisco being the most likely next stop.

So far, the Chicago consumer is responding.

"They’re really making a new brand feel comfortable," Cortino said of her local and tourist customer base. "They were really, really ready for us."

"They love the architecture; they love the simplicity of everything," she added. "Men really love to shop this way, in a minimal environment. They ask us if we’re ever going to do men’s."

Although Cortino said Marlowe would like to expand into the men’s market, it’s not an immediate goal.Marlowe’s fall collection includes suit separates and cashmere sweaters, cashmere being a Marlowe hallmark. Cashmere twin sets run $1,170 for the pair whereas individual pieces cost $445 to $725. Marlowe also sells textured wool crepe and compact wool twill suits totaling $1,300in a variety of colors, from bark and rust to midnight and black. Bestselling items include cashmere wraps, running from $295 for a whisper-weight version to $695 for a heavier double-face wrap.

"Our top-selling product is usually the most luxurious," Melito said, noting that there have been waiting lists for Marlowe’s $1,895 waterproof cashmere trench coats. Though Marlowe would not release sales volume, Melito did say the store’s average purchase was between $2,000 and $3,000.

"We’re getting a lot of people building a wardrobe," Melito said. "It’s part of one whole look. It’s rare that a woman buys only one piece."

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