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Freemans Sporting Club is headed east — Far East.
This story first appeared in the March 19, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The trendy New York City-based retailer will open a flagship in Tokyo next month and two additional stores in Japan over the next two years. Freemans, a favorite of hipsters since opening on the Lower East Side seven years ago, currently operates two stores in New York and one in San Francisco and also has a wholesale collection. In addition to its men’s wear line, Freemans operates a barber shop, restaurant and bespoke suit department at its Rivington Street store, a concept that it will be bringing to Japan.
The Tokyo store is being billed as the first Freemans Lifestyle Compound outside the U.S., and the 6,500-square-foot space will be located in the Minami-Aoyama retail district. Thom Browne opened a store in that area last week.
The Freemans store was designed by company founder and architect Taavo Somer and is intended to be reminiscent of a New York City brownstone. It is opening in partnership with Yagi Tsusho Ltd., which licenses and distributes the FSC brand in Japan along with other American and European labels including Moncler, Mackintosh, Barbour and Woolrich. Urban Research is a sublicensee and the retail partner. Under the terms of the deal, Urban Research will also open a yet-to-be-determined number of FSC in-store shops at its 104 stores in Asia.
“We’ve always had a relationship with the Japanese since we opened the store seven years ago,” said Somer.
“And we have a pretty passionate following of Japanese here,” added Kent Kilroe, Freemans managing director.
Somer said Freemans had been approached by several Japanese companies who sought to bring the brand to that country, “but we said it had to be whole package — the restaurant, bar, barber shop and store,” Somer said. “And these guys said they wanted to bring our vision to Japan.” Kilroe noted: “They appreciate how each element has to work together. That’s what separates us from the myriad of men’s wear brands out there.”
The Aoyama store will be five levels and have an outdoor vertical garden, Somer said. The building is modern, but Freemans has Photoshopped a 60-foot brownstone on the exterior to simulate its Rivington Street store.
The ground floor will carry FSC’s sportswear collection and a multibrand assortment of casualwear, including the company’s newly inked collaborations with the denim brand God of Denim, leather accessories from The Superior Labor and performance suits from its collaboration with Outlier. Allen Edmonds footwear and Viberg boots will also be offered.
The upper levels will feature FSC’s tailored clothing including off-the-rack and made-to-measure suits and accessories as well as a full bench-made bespoke suiting studio modeled after the original that opened in New York City last May. The lower level will include a restaurant-bar with an outdoor patio as well as a barbershop. Jim Meehan, a well-known designer of cocktails, is creating special drinks for the store, and the restaurant will be operated by Kinfolk.
The mix will include some Japanese leather goods and accessories from artisans in that country. “Our philosophy is to support the local economies,” Kilroe said.
The barber shop will feature a large aquarium as well as authentic New York City subway tiles.
Closer to home, FSC is expanding its store on Rivington Street. It has acquired about 1,000 square feet next door to its existing 750-square-foot unit to add a suit shop and a Japanese-inspired sports bar. Construction is currently under way, and the addition is expected to open later this spring or summer.
That store, as well as the one in Tokyo, will sell two new suit models: the House Cut, a semi-custom suit that will be shown without sleeves or a collar and with basting throughout the garment, and the Freeman, an American-made, full-canvas off-the-rack garment that will retail for $1,200. Kilroe said the House Cut, which will sell for $2,980, is easier to customize to a shopper and is a “hybrid way of making a suit.” The Freeman model is half the price of the company’s current off-the-rack suit, which sells for $2,500, and significantly lower priced than the bespoke model, which is $4,000 and up. It uses a different factory that the executives declined to name and features less handwork and a premade canvas.
“We’re trying to capture the customer who shopped us for his sportswear but couldn’t afford our ready-to-wear,” Kilroe said. “We believe there’s a real need in the market for affordable, American-made product.” Those products will also be sold in Tokyo.