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Isaac Mizrahi Heads to Southampton

The pop-up concept will feature apparel, accessories, fragrance, costume jewelry, swimwear and items manufactured solely for the local community.

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SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Welcome to Isaac World.

This story first appeared in the June 7, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Starting today through Sept. 30, shoppers can head east from Manhattan to see the world of Isaac Mizrahi from his retail lens.

The store at 44A Main Street here is a pop-up concept at 1,250 square feet that will feature apparel, accessories, fragrance, costume jewelry, swimwear and items manufactured solely for the Southampton community, such as items showing local landmarks or the area’s zip code.

Why Southampton?

“I can’t say exactly why. I like it. It’s just the right kind of a place for the brand,” said Mizrahi.

That said, the store is on the main shopping street that also houses other high-end boutiques, galleries and restaurants.

“I think it’s a thriving retail area. It’s close to where I live,” Mizrahi said.

While nothing immediate has been planned regarding personal meet-and-greet visits from the designer, Mizrahi said that there “may be a little of that.” More importantly, the close proximity to his residence will allow him to keep his finger on the consumer pulse: “I plan to keep my eye on it.”

Mizrahi said learning from the consumer helps him and his staff understand “her lifestyle.” He said it is the “customer that creates a designer’s signature because what she buys encourages the parts of what the designer creates.” The designer also likened the feedback from the consumer as a dialogue, and that “retail completes the conversation.”

So what has he learned this year?

“Woven blouses are not a great business for me to be in right now. The sweater business is amazing. It keeps changing. Years ago, I created this high wedgie, lightweight slide that was so comfortable. It was a fantastic business for 10 years. It was a signature item. You reach a saturation point and then it went away. Now it’s come back. The new version of that is a chunky, lightweight slide that’s also taller now in terms of height,” Mizrahi said.

Having a store could also mean more dollars down the road.

“When you present the brand in its entirety you get a lot better feedback. One product pulls along the other products. She sees shoes she likes, then picks up bags or dresses,” he said. Mizrahi compared that to politics. “It’s like a political party vote. If you’re a Democrat, you vote all the way down the ticket,” the designer said.

The store was pulled together in less than a month, with the lease signed in early May. Mizrahi, who could hardly contain his enthusiasm, said of the pop-up, “This is really about the product. We are more like a good merchant [than a retailer], who likes to see the product hung together. I think of it as a fun party more than a retail shop.”

Owned by Xcel Brands Inc. since September 2011, there are currently 45 licensees for 100 categories for the Isaac Mizrahi brand. Product launches total 26 categories to date, and almost all categories will be represented in the store.

The store format is gallery-styled featuring clear shelving suspended on cable against a backdrop of white walls. While there’s a fitting room and cash wrap section for packaging, transactions are through associates carrying iPads that also facilitate the checking of in-store inventory.

What one notices against the backdrop is lots of color, from purples to greens, reds to oranges and all the hues in between that Mizrahi is known for in his collections.

“Right now, everything we have in green and purple sells really quickly, which is the reverse from the usual pinks and oranges that sell. I don’t know why. I’m just noticing that in general across the board,” Mizrahi said.

With the creative element under Mizrahi’s control, that left the business details in the hands of Robert D’Loren, chief executive officer of Xcel.

“This pop-up is part of our strategy to be omnichannel,” said D’Loren, who disclosed that the timing is right for the planning of a store base after spending two years repositioning the Mizrahi brand.

D’Loren knows it won’t be an easy task: “A couple of things we’re going to learn from operating this store is how do we step into our retail partners’ shoes. We buy the collection of merchandise the way our department store retail partners view our brands and [will learn] what it’s like to put everything under one roof. That means coordinating our footwear with our dresses, denim and pulling together all of our inventory.”

While he does get some feedback from retail partners, D’Loren said “There’s nothing like getting that information first-hand. We will be experiencing that at the local level.”

D’Loren considers brands such as Michael Kors and Tory Burch as direct competitors, given comparable merchandise focus and opening price points for some items. Kors and Burch also have a growing store base.

The goal is to take the learnings from operating the pop-up so more stores can open, initially in the New York metropolitan area, where D’Loren said the brand can support 10 locations. Retail corridors eyed down the road in New York City include the Flatiron District and SoHo, and elsewhere in the better mall locations in New Jersey and on Long Island.

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