NEW YORK — Despite its references to Ivy League secret societies and the downtown rock ‘n’ roll scene, Leyton-Astor Clothing Corp. is no members-only club. Designer Chris Nicolla is appealing to a range of sartorial needs with Edwardian-collared blouses, handkerchief-hem dresses and silk cocktail dresses for women, and chambray and raglan shirts, wax pants and leather jackets for both sexes in a color pallete dominated by white, gray, charcoal and black.
The brand on March 25 will unveil a 3,000-square-foot store in NoLIta with an e-commerce site launching simultaneously. Nicolla, 30, projected $1 million in sales for the spring 2016 season.
“It’s very sleek and has an urban feel to it,” Nicolla said of the collection. “It’s an extremely tailored fit. I’m a huge fan of Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot and how polished they looked.”
Nicolla was groomed to take over his family’s real estate investment trust, Columbia Development Companies. He dutifully studied business and communications at the University of Rhode Island, then started working at the REIT. But he couldn’t vanquish the voice in the back of his head that kept prodding him to design fashion.
Nicolla enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology “for a few semesters to learn the basics,” he said. “Then, I wanted more of a street-level Ph.D., so I worked under a designer friend to understand how to source fabric and build a brand. Leyton-Astor started as a men’s line, but I decided I didn’t want to alienate 70 percent of market.
“I’ve put more of my attention into women’s because I have more fun with it,” Nicolla said. “I’m a straight guy who designs clothing for men and women the way I find it to be extremely attractive. Everyone should feel sexy. I mold and craft [the clothes] that way.”
Nicolla decided not to lend his name to the brand. “I didn’t want to get famous and I didn’t want it to run off anyone else’s name,” he said. “I wanted it to have its own credibility. I picked Leyton, a district in England, because it sounds kind of feminine. Astor, the first family of banking in New York, is more masculine.
“I don’t brand the clothing,” Nicolla added. “It has no labels. I want everyone to bring their own character and identity to the clothing.”
A leather moto jacket for men and women is a focal point of the collection. Lined in silk and decorated with antique brass zippers, the jacket is $1,550. Nicolla loosely based his version on one he found in Venice. “It was beautiful,” he said, adding that the Leyton-Astor jacket took about three-and-a-half years to make.
Other prices for the collection include button-down shirts, $175; wax denim pants, $219; a water-resistant trenchcoat, $1,625; a black bolero blazer $375; a handkerchief-hem dress, $175, and a silk cocktail dress, $495.
The store at 199 Mott Street has a brick wall, concrete slab floor and mahogany built-in cabinetry. Decorated with American flags, black-and-white photos of starlets and prize fighters, and a Union Jack tossed over a chair, it has the clubby ambiance of a fraternity house whose brothers graduated and now have successful jobs. Hence, the Restoration Hardware furniture.
“I’ve been really particular about how I’ve been doing this,” Nicolla said. “All the clothing is made in factories in Brooklyn and California. I wanted to keep everything in-house as much possible, so I can control how you feel in the store. It’s extremely unique. I want it to be an experience.”
A 450-square-foot event space in the back of the store is serviced by a large kitchen. “We have two kegs of Brooklyn Lager on tap and Champagne,” Nicolla said. “We even designed our own mugs.”
“I did a good job of saving money and putting it in good places,” Nicolla said. “That’s why I could develop the line myself. Everyone was a little skeptical at first. It was hard to win everyone over. But, after I put the collection together, they understood.”