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Lou & Grey is a case of the apple falling far from the tree.
This story first appeared in the April 22, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Though borne out of the former Loft Lounge line, “Lou & Grey is its own brand,” states Kay Krill, president and chief executive officer of Ann Inc., parent of Ann Taylor, Loft and now Lou & Grey.
During a preview of the first and only freestanding Lou & Grey store, which is located in Westport, Conn., Krill described what she considers the essence of the brand: “Everything is about comfort — that’s the filter.” It’s a fusion of streetwear and loungewear, with a fashion component, not a performance component, she added.
The store has a soothing feeling — small, not cluttered. It’s neutral in palette, and that goes for both the collection and the interior decor. There’s a predominance of gray, oatmeal and indigo across the collection and there’s lots of texture, rather than color. The fit is loose but not floppy with items typically cinched for some definition.
Prices are easy to take too, ranging from $30 to $100, including textured terry and knit lace dresses, $59; unconstructed blazers with mélange jersey linings, $89; textured popovers, $59; nubby knit sweatshirts, $39.50; densely knit T-shirt dresses with zippers in the back, $59.50; knit pants with zipper pockets and wide elastic waistbands, $59.50; lace shorts, $49.50, and T-shirts with woven backs and knit fronts, $39.50.
“The clothes are versatile. A knit pant can be dressed up with a blouse and heels. It’s still relaxed and easy and not casual anymore,” said Austyn Zung, creative director for Loft/Lou & Grey.
There’s a lifestyle approach to the merchandising, meaning there’s more than just the sportswear. Culled from third-party artisans, candles, ceramic tabletop and vases, fragrances, organic beauty products, books and tie-dyed, down-filled pillows round out the assortment. There are also cotton canvas makeup bags and pouches as well as jewelry, including necklaces with ceramic teardrop charms, priced $69.50, and precious metal bracelets, $39.50.
The environment is clean with a nod to nature, with painted oak floors, clothing racks suspended by natural rope, a large concrete island doubling as a cash wrap and for merchandise display, and hanging copper lamps. With the fitting area, there’s a big backlit screen projecting visuals from the ad campaign.
The 1,200-square-foot space was carved out of an existing Loft store, though future units are seen at 2,000 to 3,000 square feet. Four additional freestanding Lou & Grey shops will open this year, though no further locations have been announced. While the brand targets “a broad demographic” and can work in malls, downtown urban areas and suburbia, as Krill said, there’s no rush to spawn a national chain. There are already Lou & Grey shops-in-shop across the Loft chain. “We want to be smart and disciplined about it,” Krill said, regarding a rollout. There’s also no urgency to put up an e-commerce Lou & Grey Web site. “That’s down the road,” Krill said, hesitant to specify any timing.
Despite the caution, Lou & Grey is past the testing phase. “There’s a business here,” said Gary Muto, president of Ann Inc. Brands. “We’re not starting this from scratch,” he added, noting Lou & Grey is an evolution of the Loft Lounge label, which was launched in 2009. In December, Loft Lounge was recast as Lou & Grey and in January the new label was introduced on the Loft selling floors and on loft.com with an elevated assortment extending beyond loungewear. “We’ve made it larger and we think about it as a lifestyle brand that will work everywhere,” said Muto.