NEW YORK — Can Fivestory be cloned?
This story first appeared in the December 11, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That’s the question the boutique on East 69th Street just off Madison Avenue is asking itself, even as it refocuses its offerings.
“We would definitely entertain the idea of more stores,” said Fred Distenfeld, cofounder of Fivestory with his daughter Claire. “We think about it all the time. I’m a businessman. The goal is to grow and expand. It could be the other side of the country or Asia. We’ve established a presence here. The beauty would be to expand to a totally new place. We would love to bring this experience to another part of the world.”
It’s hard to imagine replicating the precious boutique-cum-townhouse with its black-and-white marble floor, symmetrical double staircase, fabric-covered walls and gurgling fountain.
“The townhouse is essential to what we have become,” the elder Distenfeld said. “The store grew out of the physical space.”
While the Distenfelds mull over physical expansion, there’s still e-commerce to launch in 2015. “That’s another store in itself,” said Claire. “We’re launching the Web site with just accessories and jewelry. We want to be pushing our strength. When I was young, Henri Bendel was the mecca for accessories. Now, there’s a void.”
Accessories and jewelry will shine even brighter at Fivestory after a renovation of the 3,500-square-foot store. Two-and-a-half years into the venture, the Distenfelds realized that men’s may not be their calling. Men’s, which was expected to account for 25 percent of sales but only does 15 percent, will be eliminated in favor of giving more space to accessories such as handbags. The idea to focus on these key categories came from Millard “Mickey” Drexler.
“I begged Mickey for a meeting,” said Claire of the J. Crew chairman and chief executive officer. “He said, ‘You can have 15 minutes for breakfast,’ which turned into two hours.” When Claire brought Drexler back to the store, he said, “I don’t know jewelry. I don’t know what to buy my wife. But there’s an energy in this room. Don’t be good at everything. Be good at something.”
After the renovation, handbags will be moved from the second-floor jewelry room to the first floor, where Narciso Rodriguez will be among those to have his accessories showcased.
“The beauty of Fivestory is we can have very upscale brands sitting next to emerging designers such as Olympia Le-Tan or Nathalie Trad from Dubai. Accessories is where I can take my adventurous and exploratory nature,” said Claire.
Her father said, “There’s the obvious financial aspect. There’s a lot of [money] to be made in accessories.” He should know: He was for years an importer of exotic skins and a manufacturer of his own handbag and belt collection. “We have a few bags I created in the shop,” he said.
“There’s a lot of brands we want, but we don’t have the space for,” said Claire. “There’s an opportunity to court the brands with shops-in-shop. We came up with the concept of creating shops-in-shop with the most personality. We’d have a rotating shop every two or three months.”
Claire gave the example of Nicholas Kirkwood. “We’re talking with him,” she said, sitting in the skylighted shoe garden with its twig-shaped fixtures and topiaries. “We could put his shoes in buckets of pearls. It’s crazy, wacky ideas on the spot.”
Claire has collaborated with designers on capsule collections, including a couture snow-globe clutch for $395 and jewelry featuring fun words on necklaces spelled with different gem stones.
“There’s this perception that we’re a luxury store,” Claire said. “Not everything has a hefty price tag.” Still, there’s a lot that does, including Yliana Yepez’s backpack in a range of colors for $4,950 and a Rolex watch from Bradford, $19,000.
Ready-to-wear labels include Rosie Assoulin, Giambattista Valli, Mary Katrantzou and Rosetta Getty. “I think she’s going to be a rock star,” Claire said of the latter. “Rtw will be expanded. [Removing men’s] will allow us to go deeper if we choose. It will give rtw room to breathe. Rtw will represent 40 percent of sales and now everything we buy will complement that. What we’ve learned is that things evolve and change.”