NEW YORK — A combination of lingerie in bright neon colors, an updated e-commerce Web site, a fairy tale-inspired boutique and a celebrity following that includes Madonna, Susan Sarandon and Gretchen Mol is putting the Deborah Marquit brand on the map.
Marquit, who has maintained a cottage industry business for 23 years, opened her namesake boutique and design studio at 158 West 15th Street here in 2006. The location of the basement storefront shop has a rich history: It was the home of the Spiderweb Tattoo Parlor and before that was The Drama Tree acting school where stars such as Jack Lemmon and Tony Randall rehearsed.
Located down a metal staircase that leads to an oversize wooden door with a sign saying, "Please Knock," a visitor is led into a sort of fantasyland of psychedelic lingerie contrasted against stone, metal and glass.
"I looked for a space for two years, and then I found this great space from Craig's List that had been vacant for two years," Marquit said. "I took out a small business loan and was in renovations for one year until it opened in 2006. I decided my new space would have to house all of the aspects of the company, including design, manufacturing, dying, sewing and sales with a storefront for customers.
"The premise of the shop is the customer can purchase garments where they are actually created,'' she said. "It was inspired by Magnolia Bakery [in New York] and offers immediate accessibility to styles, fabrics and colors. Custom fittings for custom garments are available, and bra and underwear styles can be made-to-order from 32A to 38DD."
Projecting combined wholesale and retail sales of $300,000 this year, Marquit described the ambience of her boutique as similar to the "World of Warcraft" computer game and science fiction, where customers can purchase quality lingerie that is "surreal looking in colors and fabrics. You can dress yourself like a rogue warrior, a princess or a queen."
Suggested retail for bras is $135 to $250, $85 for boyshorts and $48 to $105 for G-strings and bikinis.
Her colorful bras and undies are also making an impact with the media, most recently in a spread of Hilary Swank in the January issue of W magazine, and the Paris Vogue calender for 2008 that showcases Marquit's designs. Earlier exposure included Marquit's lingerie worn by Jennifer Love Hewitt in the 2001 movie "Heartbreakers," and Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction" in 1994.Lingerie has long been a passion for Marquit, who graduated from Parsons School of Design, and she has translated her inspiration in a number of fields, beginning as an illustrator for WWD in the early Eighties, and moving on to lingerie design, retailing and photography. It started in 1984 with four fluorescent bras she designed in her walk-up apartment in the Manhattan's West Village. The first orders came from specialty retailer Patricia Field and Bloomingdale's, which placed an order for "$42,000 for 17 stores nationwide," said Marquit, who at the time was also doing special orders backstage for exotic dancers.
She opened her first store in SoHo in 1992, when her brand generated $500,000 in sales a year with 350 retailers. But she had to close in 1993 because of the tough economy and consolidation in the innerwear and retail industries. She then counted on accounts in Japan such as PeachJohn catalogue, as well as Patricia Field and Barneys New York. However, by 1997 the Japanese market had a downturn.
"I decided to take a short hiatus and thought I would try designing for a regular company, and got a design job at Calvin Klein Underwear," Marquit said. "I was hired to develop foundations at Calvin, and thought I would learn and go back to doing my own company, but then an accident made my hiatus a lot longer."
Marquit was hit by a taxi in January 1998 and suffered a broken neck.
"[Calvin Klein] paid me full salary for six months so that I would be eligible for another six months of unemployment insurance, giving me a full year to recuperate," she said. "I thought I would use this time to rest and start my company up again."
Marquit said she plans an advertising and marketing campaign this year on YouTube, as well as sending DVDs to retailers and a customer base of 3,000.
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