LOS ANGELES — Her niche may be shoes, but Calleen Cordero is quickly becoming known for so much more — handbags, belts, cuffs and now a namesake boutique.
Cordero’s new store, her first, opened late last month here on Beverly Boulevard, nestled between Eduardo Lucero and L.A. Eyeworks. But some couldn’t stand the wait. Several shoppers, including Selma Blair and Angela Bassett, stopped by to make early-bird purchases. One instant fan barged in before the doors officially opened, dropping about $3,000.
“I saw this block three years ago and was, like, ‘This is where I want to have a store,'” said Cordero, who is projecting $1 million in sales for the retail location’s first year, while she expects wholesale revenue of $2.85 million for 2005. Footwear accounts for about 60 percent of her sales; Cordero is focusing on the accessories end of the business, which she hopes to increase by 10 percent next year.
The 1,000-square-foot boutique, designed by Los Angeles-based designer Alwy, features a Pacific Rim-inspired interior of warm yet modern decor. Paneling, fixtures, stools and chaises are made of Honduras mahogany, while sea grass rugs have been placed atop the painted cement floor. River rock displays and bamboo blinds give the space a veranda-like feel.
Since she began her line five years ago, Cordero, 40, has developed a following inside and outside of Los Angeles. The brand is now carried by 240 stores worldwide, including Harvey Nichols in London and Barneys New York and Madison, both in Los Angeles. Her handmade items — which retail from $60 for leather cuffs to $800 for boots — have attracted fans such as Renee Zellweger, Demi Moore and Nicole Kidman. It’s the artfully distressed leathers in everything from matte to metallic finishes and details that have become her signature.
For Cordero, a divorced mother of two, the store represents the culmination of 25 years of passion for her trade, which began when she was a 15-year-old stock girl at a high-end shoe store. She went on to work in sales and marketing for Kenneth Cole, Dr. Martens and Steve Madden, and then designed footwear for junior brand Hollywood Scooters.
The designer got her big break in 2000, when a vintage belt inspired her to design a pair of shoes in that same vein. She took six styles to the World Shoe Association show in Las Vegas, where she was repping for another company. The result: $100,000 in orders.
These days, Cordero designs from her tiny North Hollywood studio-cum-factory, where as many as 40 craftspeople make every shoe, belt, handbag and cuff. Vegetable-tanned leathers are distressed in-house, while the solid brass grommets and studs are chemically aged and pressed, one by one.
Leslie Gersten, the owner of Sugar Magnolia in Chicago, carries Cordero’s belts. “She is definitely a craftsman,” said Gersten, who has owned Sugar Magnolia for 32 years. “She ships impeccably and is lovely to deal with. Nothing is missing or damaged. It’s one of the things that you dream about in retail.”
Cordero said she hopes to open stores in Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and eventually overseas. But keeping her growth at bay is key to maintaining her high production standards. She produces eight collections a year, with no reorders.
“I can only handmake so much,” said Cordero. “The day I feed everybody’s belly is the day they don’t want me anymore.”