By George, one of the top independent fashion stores in Austin, Tex., is reintroducing men’s wear after a three-year hiatus.
This story first appeared in the February 15, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“We realized after a year or two that we missed that synergy of men and women shopping together,” said Matthew Culmo, who owns the store with his wife, Katy. “We were a destination for people who came from out of town, and the guys and women would shop and have a cocktail and spend a long period of time.”
The Culmos abandoned the men’s business in 2007 to focus on women’s and free space to carry European designers, including Balenciaga and Marni. They still sell designer ready-to-wear but have narrowed the buy, eliminated some labels, and merchandised it with contemporary looks. A back room that formerly housed the rtw merchandise will now revert to men’s wear.
“You’ve got to constantly evolve — that’s the only way you’re going to stay alive,” he asserted.
The men’s area will debut in that 1,750-square-foot space by month’s end with “clean contemporary sportswear,” denim, shoes and accessories, explained Culmo, who buys the men’s wear.
The main store at Sixth Street and Lamar spans 6,000 square feet and does more than $2 million in annual revenue. Culmo expects the men’s wear will boost volume by 10 to 15 percent. By George also has a small women’s contemporary store on South Congress Street.
Key men’s labels are Billy Reid, John Varvatos, The Row, Levi Vintage jeans, Jean Shop, Inhabit and This Is Not a Polo Shirt, plus shoes by Fiorentini + Baker and Golden Goose. Retail prices will range mainly from $100 to $300 but will go as high as $500.
“We buy the best pieces that have longevity,” he said. “We never follow trends. That is also what helps us stay above the fray.”
The decor is subtle, with white and gray walls, wood tables and floor, stainless steel fixtures and black-and-white photographs.
“I make the clothing the focal point,” Culmo said. “You can have a beautiful space all tricked out, but they’re there to buy clothing.”
The store has weathered the recession well because the Culmos slashed inventory 20 to 30 percent three years ago in anticipation of the March 2007 opening of The Domain, a high-end shopping center that introduced Neiman Marcus, Barneys Co-Op and other upscale stores to Austin.
Katy Culmo bought By George in 1979 for $26,000 from the original owner, George Humphrey, who operated it for about three years.
“I had no fashion background — it could have been hardware,” she said. “My flair is that I just don’t buy into [the fashion scene] that much. If you look at it with practicality, you can’t go wrong. You have to envision it walking down the street.”