Next Century has a new look and a new curator.
The shop, a hipper iteration of Century 21 that’s located next to its Cortland Street flagship, opened last October. Originally, Chrissie Miller, the former Sophomore designer and creative director, was tasked with curating the two-story space, which included a selection of new and off-price pieces from brands including Adam Selman, Rihanna’s Puma x Fenty line, Proenza Schouler and Olympia Le-Tan along with exclusive designs from Telfar Clemens. Clemens used the shop after his fall 2018 show as an experimental showroom where customers could vote on pieces they liked to guide buyers.
But now Next Century has partnered with Cala, a web-based platform that connects designers, influencers and musicians to production facilities, and Ruth Gruca, the former global fashion director of Made and VFiles, who now serves as Cala’s creative director, is curating the space.
“Ever since I started working in this industry, the biggest problem that designers run into is production,” Gruca said. “And I always thought, until I can fix that, I can’t fix the other problems designers are facing.”
Gruca met Andrew Wyatt, who cofounded Cala in 2016 with Dylan Pyle, about a year and a half ago when Cala worked on the collaboration between 424, Wiz Khalifa and Pleasures for Made LA. Gruca was hired to onboard more users and she’s hoping to do this through a partnership with Next Century, which now features computers where prospective subscribers can learn about Cala’s functionalities.
For a monthly subscription, the Cala platform connects designers with factories from all over the world. Once they’ve found a factory that suits their needs, Cala’s in-browser design platform allows designers to speak directly with the factory in real time as opposed to communicating via long e-mail threads. By integrating all of the supply chain processes including creating a mood board or tech pack into one place, Gruca said Cala is able to cut down production time for all types of garments. Designers are able to get samples back within five to seven days and have a collection produced within 40 days. Cala also works with a fabric distributor to provide an easy-to-search inventory of fabric, eliminating issues with fabric sourcing.
“Cala can be compared to Uber, the passenger is the designer and the drivers are the production company,” said Gruca, who added that because Cala works with a finance company, designers don’t have to pay the upfront cost on production. “Cala allows the designers who are the most creative to succeed.”
Gruca believes the strategy for bringing more designers, musicians and influencers onto the Cala platform is by creating community, which she’s attempting to do via the Next Century space that is a store but also venue for programming.
The two-story area is 4,000 square feet and has a separate entrance at 21 Dey Street. It’s stocked with new and off-price pieces from Hood by Air, Comme des Garçons, Helmut Lang, Maison Margiela, Rick Owens and vintage items selected by Gabrielle Held. Gruca said there will be a focus on influencer merchandise and they’ve started with pieces from Sita Abellan, a DJ and model. Next Century is trying to rethink how it works with designers by taking 20 percent off the retail, but not taking on any inventory risk, a model that was inspired by how the music industry deals with merchandise.
“We feel this is a mutually beneficial model that could be big in the future,” Gruca said.
Gruca is also integrating customization into the shop. GBY Beauty has set up a space to apply tooth gems, and Gruca plans on working with companies or artists who can customize items, whether with embroidery or reconstructing a shoe found on Century 21’s shop floor. The area will also serve as a showroom for Buffalo London — through its consulting arm, Cala represents Buffalo London in North America for sales, public relations and marketing.
Gruca has tapped Office Magazine to have a presence in the cafe and execute on programming each Thursday. Events have included performances from Onyx Collective, a jazz band, Swedish artist Okay Kaya, punk band Surfbort and a private listening party for Chromeo’s album. Each event is tied to merchandise. For its next event with Vaquera, a Brooklyn-based design collective, the brand is using Cala to develop and produce a shirt and proceeds will be donated to Callen-Lorde, a community health center for New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
“Everything is anchored in events,” Gruca said. “We really want to use this space as a way to give back to the community.”
Gruca has spent most of her career working with younger designers attempting to establish a brand, and she believes the traditional fashion calendar no longer serves them.
“I have a lot of respect for the CFDA and IMG, but the fashion calendar is broken and I don’t see that business model working,” Gruca said. “The money is in drops. If you can’t produce at a faster pace, you lose. Designers need to be making smaller quantities of special merchandise. We have to take risks and think about technology that’s going to push the industry forward.”