Not only does the first Anne Klein New York flagship serve as a turning point for parent company Kasper ASL, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, and the oft-revived brand, now a year into its latest designer, Charles Nolan, but the store opening comes at a tough time for retailing and for the SoHo neighborhood that is its home.
Not to mention that the doors open today just as New York Fashion Week reaches it culmination.
Chairman and chief executive officer John D. Idol said it was all in the cards.
“This was all planned — the banks have been very supportive of this,” Idol said Wednesday. “It’s a big world out there and there’s lots of market share for us to grow. It’s certainly an opportunity that we feel is appropriate right now.”
First-year sales goals for the store are $2.4 million. Counting licenses, total Anne Klein sales are estimated at about $400 million.
Simple, elegant and refined, the first flagship for one of the trailblazing American sportswear labels is reflective of the brand’s image, which was exactly the goal, said Nolan, senior vice president of design at Anne Klein New York.
“The whole feel we tried to create was a residential feel, like we’re receiving guests all day long,” Nolan said Wednesday during a walk-through of the store at 417 West Broadway, which once housed the Mary Boone Gallery. “We wanted it to be sophisticated, but also wanted it to be friendly … in a sense what I try to do with the collection — which is finished, stylish, but easy.”
The spacious and light-filled, two-story SoHo store, made to look like a comfortable home or a boutique hotel and inspired by Billy Baldwin’s works from the Sixties, features plenty of seating, a skylight that runs its entire length, fresh flowers and lots of books — for sale — such as the “Vreeland Memos.” The color scheme stays within the neutral family — browns and taupes — except for plush red rugs, the line’s signature color.
Large, flowing drapes extend from floor to ceiling toward the back of the store, while the brand’s lion-head logo is illuminated against the upper floor’s main wall. There are five roomy dressing rooms with oversized mirrors and good lighting. Video installations, either featuring the current runway footage or of the line’s spokeswoman, Bridget Hall, shot on the Upper West Side, will play near the entrance.
The upstairs space will be used as an installation to encourage traffic, It currently houses an eclectic mix of well-established artists’ works, whose proceeds will go toward AIDS Community Research Initiative of America.
Every detail was fussed over — one of the most important being the wall color.
“We painted it three times before we achieved this,” said Nolan, pointing to the minkish-brown walls that complement the camel-stained concrete tile floors. “The biggest challenge with the color was all this natural light, and we definitely didn’t want a white box. It’s a gorgeous deep neutral, and such a great foil against the clothes.”
The 3,200-square-foot space, located between Prince and Spring Streets, will mostly be dedicated to the Anne Klein New York collection, while interspersed with pieces from its better sportswear collection, AK Anne Klein. For example, Nolan referred to a mannequin, wearing drawstring pants and a beaded top. “This is an AK pant with a collection top,” he said. “There’s a connection between the two lines — they’re not completely different. A great white shirt is a great white shirt.”
About 30 percent of the space will be used for accessories, such as handbags and watches, as well as shoes. Retail prices range from $29 for a gold lion-logo T-shirt, $265 for twill pants, $200 for black strappy sandals, $328 for a black leather bag with buckles, and $395 for a double-faced linen jacket. A neat twist will include selling candles and soaps, not by Anne Klein, but by newcomer Space M. Projects.
Dee Salomon, senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications, said the flagship serves as one more step taken toward Anne Klein New York reviving its brand.
“We’re well into the process,” she said. “We’ve shifted so that it’s more in line with the Anne Klein brand — that translates into retail and advertising and with Bridget Hall as our spokeswoman.”
The SoHo store will serve as a prototype for a planned retail rollout. Next on the table, two additional Anne Klein New York flagships are planned for Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and on London’s Bond Street for 2003. Mall stores are also scheduled, with plans for the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, N.J., the Americana Mall in Manhasset, N.Y., and Las Vegas.
Early reviews of the new look of the line — and the new store — seem promising, as gathered during one of two well-attended opening parties Wednesday night.
Robert Burke Jr., vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, praised Nolan’s work with the collection, heralding it for its return to classic American sportswear offered at an affordable price.
“We’re seeing this at a high level by people like Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren, but to see it at this level that so many people can afford,” said Burke, noting there is a strong chance Bergdorf’s will carry Anne Klein New York, and is nearing a decision this week. “This is going back to Anne Klein’s roots, but not in a vintage way, in a new way.”
Burke said Nolan’s runway show Monday was also one of the best he saw all week — saying he particularly liked the shearling and leather jackets, the warm color palette and accessories — …such as the shoes, boots and belts.
“It’s the right sensibility at the right price,” he said. “People don’t want to see too much fashion right now. Too much has happened.”
Celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch said he loved the “ballroom to bedroom” ease of Anne Klein New York, commending Nolan’s use of separates.
“I like the idea of just one piece,” Bloch said. “You can go to the office in one way and then just change the shoes and have a new look.”
And if anyone’s commendation really matters, perhaps it’s a vote of confidence from the attorney who’s handling Kasper’s bankruptcy proceedings.
“The line is fabulous — very salable,” said Alan B. Miller of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. With regard to the Chapter 11 proceedings, Miller said the line “is going to help,” adding, “there’s a big investment in Anne Klein and it can grow.”
As reported, as part of its reorganization plan, Kasper plans to change its name to the Anne Klein Group.
Miller is confident that by the end of the year, Kasper’s troubles will be over. By then, “we’ll have a deal with our bondholders and we’re out of [bankruptcy].”
As for the choice of SoHo, Idol said that location was perfect to launch the flagship. That’s despite the impact the area has felt in diminished traffic since the destruction of the World Trade Center and the closing of streets in the area for the weeks that followed.
“SoHo was really important,” Idol said. “The eclectic shopping experience is+the right environment for us to be positioned in — from brands like Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors to Helmut Lang,” he said of nearby signature stores.
Nolan concurred that the downtown, upbeat flavor corresponds well with the modern attitude of the Anne Klein customer.
“There’s a more diverse, interesting community here,” he said. “It’s also home to some interesting people.