The PrettyLittleThing U.S. headquarters, 'Influencer Lounge' in L.A.

LOS ANGELES is coming soon to a corner near you. But it’s not a store. While most e-tailers are dipping a toe into brick-and-mortar retail, the six-year-old U.K.-based fast-fashion brand is content to stay in the online realm, where it’s experienced high double-digit growth since launching in the U.S. in 2016. But it does want to get up close and personal with the influencers and celebrities who inspire and drive the business.

On the prime corner, two-story retail space at 8587 Melrose Avenue, next to All Saints and a stone’s throw from Sweaty Betty, Zadig & Voltaire, Rag & Bone, Lululemon, MAC, Cutler & Gross, Alice + Olivia and Restoration Hardware, bright pink signage saying simply “coming soon” has heralded PrettyLittleThing’s arrival for the past few weeks, leading most to believe that, like its neighbors, it would be a store.

“We wanted people to make up their own minds about what it is to make them wait and see. But we like to change the way things work,” said PrettyLittleThing founder and co-chief executive officer Umar Kamani. “There’s no brick-and-mortar in the plan. It’s more profitable for me, and more beneficial for me, to open a country rather than a store.”

The headquarters, PLT’s first outside of its Manchester and London operations and set to open in the next six to eight weeks, will house offices, of course. Kamani said he’s just received a five-year U.S. work visa and plans to spend the majority of his time here for the next few years. But the street-facing storefront will also be home to an “influencer lounge,” à la the space that California-based Revolve has less than a mile east on Melrose Avenue and Crescent Heights Boulevard.

“We are going to create a really cool influencer space downstairs where people can come in and hang out. It’s gifting only; you can’t really buy anything. We are also going to have a photo studio in there,” said Kamani.

It speaks more to brand authenticity than bandwagon-jumping. After all, PLT launched in the U.S. with a Kylie Jenner-hosted party in 2016, and has since tapped Sofia Richie and a host of others for its campaigns. Its latest capsule collaboration, launching Wednesday with urban clothing pioneer Karl Kani, features Teyana Taylor as its face. That line will have its launch party tonight in Los Angeles.

“I’ve spent quite some time in L.A. now and for what PLT is as a brand — we are a very glamorous brand and I feel L.A. is a glamorous place — the whole vibe and ambience are very linked. And I feel like Melrose Avenue is seen as the fashion area. I always see cool kids hanging about there and Urth Caffé has loads of influencers passing through as well,” said Kamani. “When I’d seen the space, it was more than the budget I had in mind, but I fell in love with it and it fit in with what PLT was as a brand, so I was like, ‘I’ve got to take it.’ Until it opens, it’s just an expensive billboard.”

He’s not the first European retailer to fall in love with the buzzy neighborhood. H&M-owned & Other Stories also has a design atelier on Melrose, and cited the same reasons for wanting to be close to the demographic that inspires and drives its localized fashion concept.

Kamani’s approach with PLT is to brand it not as the runway rip-off, but the accessible personality-driven novelty piece associated with celebrities and influencers. “Typically you see your favorite influencers and celebrities wearing high-end fashion and you have to buy a version of that for cheaper to make it accessible. But we wanted actual celebrities and influencers wearing PLT, so then every girl can afford to buy that, which means they are getting the real deal. You’re not getting the ‘Ah, that looks like the Balmain that Kylie wore’; you’re getting the PLT one that Kylie wore. It’s about building that confidence and also the ability to try out fashion, whereas a lot of times you can’t experiment with your fashion because everything’s so expensive.”

Sofia Richie PrettyLittleThing ad campaign shoot

Sofia Richie shooting PrettyLittleThing’s holiday 2016 campaign at The Frolic Room.  Michael Buckner/Variety

Of PLT’s growth in the U.S. market, Kamani declined to give sales figures, but said it’s “far higher than double digits. We’ve exceeded all expectations here. We feel like we understand this market, given it a lot of tender loving care and time and attention and we got familiar with the culture and that’s why we are doing well.

“As a U.K. brand, you can’t just come here on holiday or come here for a few weeks, figure it out, go back and make it here. You have to come here and invest the time, energy. It’s not just about investing money, it’s about investing into the culture and that’s what we care about,” he said.

“It shouldn’t look like U.K. product, it should feel like L.A. product or Japan product, depending on where you are. That’s how we know we’ve done our job. We are very proud to be a U.K. brand, but we are trying to touch all parts of the world now,” he added.

Like most e-tailers that have the data and the technology to tailor the user experience based on geography, Kamani thinks that “personalization is the biggest thing moving forward. You see Facebook and all these social media platforms where everything’s becoming personalized. You only see what you want to see. We are trying to give the customer exactly what they want, no matter where they are in the world.”

At the moment, the biggest concentration of celebrity influencers in the world seems to be in Los Angeles. That’s why Kamani is building PLT’s first lounge here. “PLT was built on being a personal brand from everyone in the business, to every event we do, even with celebrity deals. I like it to get personal. I don’t like anything to just be a business deal, because I feel it’s too transparent. I can see a business deal. You’ve got to be real. The influencer lounge gives us that personality.”

Of course, the brand enjoys a good party, which will be the case with tonight’s Karl Kani launch, which he promises will be “an old-fashioned Nineties hip-hop party with some surprise performers,” a one-night-stand to match the onetime drop. “That collection will be very limited. Again, that’s PLT being very expressive and engaging in culture. Karl Kani is from the hip-hop culture and we like to have fun and talk to all audiences.”

Hence why he selected Taylor as the campaign’s face. “She is the perfect fit for this because she’s got a whole pretty look, but she’s also got a streetwear vibe, and she’s from New York like Karl,” he said.

Of course, the party is in L.A. because “the world is watching what goes on in L.A. more than anywhere, I think.”

While his roots are in Manchester where brother Samir runs Boohoo Man and father Mahmud runs Boohoo Women and Nasty Gal, the younger Kamani likes having his own bicontinental baby. “It gives us that nice little spicy competition, but it’s all healthy. It’s a lot of fun just learning, evolving and adapting every day,” he said.

While he won’t rule out PLT boys or kids, saying, “Anything’s possible, if the customer wants that, we will give them that,” he said that for now he’s just “happy with the girls.”

And a few boys. As John Mayer passed by his booth at the Polo Lounge, he told his publicist, “I love John Mayer. Go invite him to our party tomorrow.”

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