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NEW YORK — Vivienne Tam wasn’t taking any chances with her new 2,200-square-foot store in SoHo.
The door is in the right place, Tam assured a visitor to the store at 40 Mercer Street here. After all, she consulted an expert in feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement whose practitioners believe money will leave a business or home if the door isn’t properly situated. The designer, who hopes to do more than $1.5 million in sales in the first year, had a round Corian cash wrap built as an extra precaution. “The round shape signifies harmony,” she said.
Tam unveiled the store Tuesday night with a presentation of her spring 2008 collection. The shop will open to the public next Wednesday. A parade of 45 models, dressed in chic Mao suits designed by Tam with mirrors on the tips of the jacket collars, walked from the designer’s temporary offices on Broadway to the store, where they stood sentry outside. Models wearing looks from the collection followed, eliciting stares from pedestrians.
Tam, who draws on her Asian heritage for her designs, made a large antique teahouse, inspired by an original from the Qing Dynasty in the 1600s, the focal point of the store. A dealer on West 26th Street helped her find it. The teahouse, which has elaborate engravings, arrived disassembled and took two days to put back together. The designer plans to hire a tea expert and serve tea to customers. “Tea is so healthy and calming,” Tam said. “The teahouse will help customers enjoy the space.”
Tam’s previous store at 99 Greene Street in SoHo, which closed in January, was designed with more overt Chinese references such as carved Foo dogs and a huge red dragon sculpture. “I think this [new] space is more sophisticated,” she said. “I want to show the clothes off. This will showcase my collection and my more expensive Jade line.”
The store artfully juxtaposes the old and the new. The teahouse, which is based on a 300-year-old design, rests on a sleek limestone floor. The exposed ceiling is covered in Sheetrock with directions for building engineers painted in yellow and red that look like an abstract painting. Columns are concrete and changing rooms are hidden behind a black lacquer wall. “We’ll display the work of Chinese artists,” Tam said. “This is going to be a very different environment. I want people to have a cultural experience.”
The Mercer Street store, which occupies a corner, is between Grand and Broome Streets and sits at the base of a 15-story residential building designed by Jean Nouvel and developed by André Balazs. Tam said she was attracted to the space by the building’s red awning. “In China, red is the color of prosperity and red has always been a signature of mine,” she said.
In terms of retail, Tam is well represented in Asia with franchised stores. There are eight in China with two new units planned for next year. The designer has 23 stores in Japan, two in Thailand, eight in Hong Kong and one store in Malaysia. And next year the first Vivienne Tam store will bow in Singapore. Tam said she’ll open a total of 10 new stores in the Asia-Pacific region in 2008.
The U.S. is also a priority, and Tam plans to expand with franchisees. The designer foresees opening three more units in New York and stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Boston.
Tam, who has collaborated with Motorola on cell phone cases and participated in runway shows sponsored by Volkswagen in China, said she would “like to have a lower-priced collection. I find it quite interesting. I love crossover projects. The mass market is incredible.”
The designer is creating uniforms for employees of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel opening in Beijing in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics. “I’m excited about the Olympics in China,” she said.