Civilianaire Sets NYC Store

The NoLIta unit, the jeans firm’s seventh, will be its first outside California.

Gene Montesano and Barry Perlman

Civilianaire, the Los Angeles-based marketer of domestically made upscale jeans and sportswear, is planning a transcontinental leap for its growing retail business.

This story first appeared in the November 21, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The company will open its seventh store — and its first outside California — before the end of the year in a 1,250-square-foot site at the corner of Mott and Houston streets in New York’s NoLIta district.

The store will have about 950 square feet of selling space.

The brainchild of Gene Montesano and Barry Perlman, who founded Lucky Brand in 1990 and sold it to Liz Claiborne Inc. (now Fifth & Pacific Cos. Inc.) nine years later, Civilianaire uses Japanese denim in straightforward silhouettes for men’s and women’s jeans that are priced at $200 and up, and offers complementary basic twills, woven and knit shirts and outerwear at compatible prices.

Montesano told WWD that he and Perlman see the retail component as the driving force of the business, although they’ve supplemented it with a number of wholesale accounts. Currently the company has units in California near its downtown Los Angeles offices; on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles; in Venice; Newport Beach, and, close to Perlman’s home, two stores in Montecito. The company is also working on opening its eighth store, and its northernmost California location, in Carmel.

“We’ll continue with some wholesale accounts that are like-minded or interested in what we do, but we’ve elected to concentrate on retail,” Montesano said. “More people walk past our corner of Houston Street than all our other stores put together. And now that we’ll be up to eight stores, we’ll have a bit of critical mass.”

Wholesale accounts include Industrie Denim, American Rag, Fred Segal Santa Monica, Scoop and Brooklyn Denim Co.

The partners acknowledge their approach, at least at this stage, is highly improvisational. “We’d like to find a location in Miami, but we’re doing all this organically, like we did in the beginning with Lucky,” said Montesano. “We don’t have any big aggressive plan. We’re not doing things we don’t want to do or that don’t fit.”

So far, that’s led to a business that is predominantly but not overwhelming skewed towards women’s and a commitment to U.S. production with denim from both Japan and the U.S.

The lease was negotiated by Jason Pruger, executive managing director of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank’s retail unit, and Ross Kaplan, senior managing director. The real estate brokerage firm has a sizeable roster of fashion clients and has noted rapid growth of fashion retail in the area.

For the new tenants, a fringe benefit of the new store is its proximity to Emilio’s Ballato restaurant on Houston. “We’ve walked by that place thousands of times and people told us to check it out,” Montesano exclaimed. “So we went in and wound up having lunch there twice and dinner once. The food is killer.”