By  on December 7, 2004

NEW YORK — In time for the brisk holiday shopping season, several designers are giving their fans another retail option by opening signature stores.

Aside from being a place to show off all the designer has to offer, signature stores are increasingly being used to test drive new or hard-to-find products. For many, that means accessories, a category that continues to fuel high-ticket sales, and something that many U.S. designers have struggled with over the years.

Bud Konheim, president and chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, said, “If you’re going to be interested in your image, you have to be in control of your retail, even if it’s in just one store. There’s got to be a place where you can point to and say, ‘This is us.’ Because everyone is always messing with your stuff.”

Nicole Miller plans to open its 13th store in January at 106 Wooster Street near Barneys Co-op and BCBG. To blend in with the downtown neighborhood and move quickly into the space, the company plans to paint the interior, use rolling racks for display fixtures and an antique table for the cash register, Konheim said.

“We’ve been building out these stores to the tune of $350,000, but that doesn’t mean people are going to buy more clothes,” he said.

Nicole Miller, which also has 18 licensed stores, is looking for locations in Charlotte, N.C., San Francisco, Greenwich, Conn., the Upper West Side, and Harlem, Konheim said. The biggest stumbling blocks are that the rent is too high, the space is too small or too big, or the location is not right, he said. “All the criteria has to be right for us to take a space,” Konheim said.

Carolina Herrera is on the march to open more CH stores for her more affordable collection. Earlier this year, CH stores bowed in Manhasset, N.Y., Las Vegas, Mexico City and Coral Gables, Fla. Another store is set to open on Dec. 16 in Houston.

Having opened a Carolina Herrera concept shop in Bergdorf Goodman, there are plans to open five more in 2005, a company spokesman said.

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