Contemporary women’s brand L’Agence has been in no rush to open stores. In fact, the Los Angeles-based label has waited a decade to launch a new store. L’Agence on Oct. 25 will unveil a 1,000-square-foot unit at 1011 Madison Avenue, its first location in Manhattan and the second store since its inception in 2008, when a store opened on Melrose Avenue in L.A.
The slow pace of building a retail network is changing under Jeffrey Rudes, an original founder and financier of L’Agence when it launched eight years ago. Rudes took the company’s reins last year as chief executive officer and creative director.
“Our business has never been better at retail,” Rudes said. “The whole market is talking about our performance. I was just in Europe and the response and order-taking was beyond expectations. This is a moment for launching what’s next for the brand. It’s J brand all over again when it was exciting. It’s like you kind of arrived.”
Rudes is best known as the founder of J Brand, which he launched in 2005. He resigned as ceo in May 2014 after selling his equity in the business. In 2015, Rudes launched an eponymous men’s wear collection, but shuttered the sole store in SoHo in 2017, and subsequently put the business on hold.
“New York is L’Agence’s biggest wholesale market,” Rudes added. “We sell to Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Jeffrey New York and Intermix. New York was a natural. We’re opening on Madison Avenue to brand ourselves. We have plans to be profitable there. A second New York City location will be SoHo. If the Madison Avenue store performs the way our Melrose Avenue unit is performing, we’ll probably look at opening a store in SoHo sooner rather than later.”
Rudes said L’Agence plans to open two stores in 2019 and four units in 2020. “We’re looking at different options,” he said. “In three years, in 2021, there will be eight L’Agence units operating, with one of the eight in London. We also have Paris and Milan in our sights. They’ll be big markets for us.”
L’Agence’s growth won’t come only from company-owned stores. Rudes is planning expansion on the product front, with handbags slated to bow in fall 2020. “We’ll do outerwear, including jackets and wool coats, shearling heavier leathers and lined leathers,” he said. “Footwear is in the plan. We’ll develop the handbags on our own, but not the footwear. We don’t plan to license the footwear, but rather, we’d do a collaboration — it could be a joint venture — for the manufacture of shoes.
“Cosmetics and home are possibilities,” Rudes added. “The name L’Agence and the way we’ve branded ourselves could [lend itself] to a full lifestyle brand.”
Leveraging influencers is another strategy. “A few influencers will release collaboration pieces, jeans, silk blouses or a blazer, in the spring,” he said. “We’ll pick an influencer to promote a specific product.” Rudes said he’ll enlist 10 to 12 influencers on Nov. 15, for a press event. “We’re dressing them for the event and they’ll be posting from the store what they love from L’Agence and are wearing. During fashion weeks, and when there are industry events, we use influencers to wear our clothes and make some noise.”
“We built a wholesale business and got recognition for the brand,” Rudes said. “Now, we’re going to do that and build brick-and-mortar for the brand.”