Oak epitomizes downtown cool with its moody, fashion-forward basics. They’ve pulled off tailored skorts and sleek silhouettes out of long bomber jackets. Thus, it was rather uncool when the specialty retailer and label of the same name, owned by American Apparel until earlier this year, got thrown into the tumult that encompassed its former parent.
So founders Louis Terline and Jeff Madalena hatched a plan to get back the company they sold less than three years earlier to American Apparel under then-chief executive officer and founder Dov Charney. Charney was dismissed from the firm in late 2014, waging a battle in and out of court for much of last year in an effort to get back in.
“Jeff and I had always known that with Dov’s departure, we were going to look for an exit because the environment had changed drastically and they weren’t pushing creative ideas there,” Terline said. “Without Dov there, we didn’t see the magic anymore. With the bankruptcy, we had to sort of expedite that.”
The original plan, under its former parent, would have been to exit the leases on the four Oak stores — a pair in Los Angeles and another pair in New York — and sell off the remaining inventory in a fire sale.
Terline and Madalena are picking up the pieces, stitching together a new future for Oak. A party tonight in the company’s Beverly Boulevard store to screen the film Terline and Madalena produced, called “Kept” for vogue.com’s Video Fashion Week, is the first big event since the deal to buy their company closed earlier this year. The film, directed by Liza Mandelup, highlights Oak’s fall collection through the lens of Los Angeles.
“We wanted this film to reflect Los Angeles and the particular magic that Los Angeles has that’s different from the magic of New York,” Terline explained.
It’s a fitting theme as the 12-year-old company, started in Brooklyn where it’s still headquartered, contemplates its next steps. Terline recently bought a home in Los Angeles and said an Oak satellite office somewhere in the area is likely coming next year. “It’s not about being a New York company in L.A.,” Terline said of the thinking about having an L.A. office. Plus, the company did have space at American Apparel headquarters, so it only makes sense to shop for a new home.
“There are definitely pieces that need to be put together,” Terline said of the experience since buying the company. “It’s smooth in that most of my staff has remained consistent. Jeff and I have remained. From a creative standpoint, there’s a consistency. But the logistics and general industry relationships that were sort of affected by American Apparel’s involvement are being repaired and everybody’s been great and it’s an exciting adventure slowly piecing it all back together. We expect by fall to have a really strong return to the industry.”
The focus is growing the company’s Web presence with a major update to the site taking place over the next few months. Expanding Oak’s wholesales business — where the line’s in about 30 doors — is also top-of-mind, but the two aren’t interested in making swooping changes to distribution that would alter the market positioning of their brand, which Terline described as being at a “midlevel contemporary price point.”
Oak store growth is also up for consideration, though farther out in the timeline. When it happens, expansion will be concentrated on the U.S. market. Although, Terline said the company has started to entertain the idea of international partnerships.
People should keep an eye out for Oak, Terline said, hinting at the renewed energy within the business: “We’re super excited to be back in the saddle.”