It’s long been a dream of Pierre Mahéo to open an Officine Générale store in New York — one that has now become reality.
On Saturday, Mahéo was inside the 1,800-square-foot shop at 220 Lafayette Street putting the finishing touches on the interior when passers-by wandered in and asked if they were open yet. Although the awning and sign had not yet been installed and a key lighting fixture was stuck in Customs, the merchandise was there, so Mahéo welcomed them to shop.
“Our target was the 11th and we opened at 2:45 p.m.,” he said with a smile.
“We’ve been working on this for quite a long time now,” Mahéo added.
New York is the brand’s biggest market outside of its home country of France and before the pandemic, Mahéo had visited the city at least once a month. But while the travel ban made him unable to visit his adopted city for more than 20 months, he used the opportunity to secure a good deal on the location for his first store outside of Europe. The company is renting the entire building and will use the ground floor for the retail store and the upper levels for a showroom and offices.
Although the brand had staff here, they used shared offices or worked from home, but since Officine Générale shows four collections a year for men and women, Mahéo said, “it makes sense to have our own space. It’s now a one-stop shop.”
Mahéo said he selected this location because it straddles SoHo and Nolita, the latter of which has become increasingly popular of late. “I like to be in the middle of the action,” he said. He also likes the bustling restaurant scene in the neighborhood, which draws crowds at night and on the weekends. “I always consider food and beverage,” he said, adding that the street is “very alive. I knew the bulk of our customers were between Tribeca and 30th Street, so it was a logical choice to be downtown.”
The construction started in early October and Mahéo, his wife, Nina Haverkamp, and Paris-based architect Juliette Rubel, who also worked with the couple on Officine Générale’s stores in Paris and London, worked remotely with the team in New York to design the space. They even created a replica of the store in a warehouse in Paris to “make sure the space was functional,” he said.
Then on Nov. 8, when the travel ban to the U.S. was lifted, Mahéo immediately made the trip from Paris to New York, where he visited the space “to make sure our plan was working well.” He said that with only a few minor modifications, the store was pretty much exactly what he had envisioned, and it was full-steam ahead.
The ambiance of the store is an evolution of Officine Générale’s original concept of the stores in Paris with vintage furniture selected by Mahéo and Haverkamp, such as a ‘”pigeonhole” desk by Pierre Jeanneret; a Jacques Hitier “Miami” daybed; Japanese doors from the ninth century used as frames for some of the French Morse Modernist paintings, and 17th-century wine presses that decorate the space.
All of the racks and shelving units were custom made in France from hammered steel and in oak wood. Other details that have been replicated from the Paris stores are the light ash wood floor and flannel curtains.
Officine Générale has six stores in Paris — another women’s-centric store is slated to open this coming weekend there — and one in London. And he’s actively looking for a second location in the U.S. — probably in Los Angeles.
As reported, in May the brand Mahéo started in 2012 sold a minority stake to Untitled Group, a New York-based investment fund founded by Josh Rowan and Adam Freed. They join BPI France, a public investment bank, that invested in the brand in 2015. With the investment, the company said it plans to expand its retail footprint.
Untitled has been “extremely helpful and supportive on this project,” Mahéo said. “They’re two clever guys born and raised in America.”
Upon entering the store, the men’s collection is showcased in the front followed by a new collection, called Daily Classics, that quietly launched in Paris last week. These unisex essentials — chinos, sweatshirts, Ts and other products — are only being sold at Officine Générale stores and online right now, and feature sustainable materials such as organic cotton from Turkey and manufactured in Portugal. The brand has also created shopping bags from recycled paper with organic cotton handles to continue the sustainable message beyond the walls of the store.
In the future, Mahéo expects to add a handful of vintage pieces that complement the Officine Générale assortment. “In Paris, I’ve been hunting pieces like Army jackets and vintage Ts from the ’70s and ’80s, and they’re almost sold out,” he said. “So we’ll have some here as well.”
The back of the store is devoted to the women’s collection, which started in 2018 and now accounts for 32 percent of the company’s sales. Although the men’s line is still growing, women’s is outpacing it, he said. “We’re a men’s wear company and we use the same materials for our women’s collection. Tailoring is an important part of the total for both, but the women’s is not just retrofitted men’s sizes.”
Officine Générale also has a strong wholesale business with Mr Porter, Ssense, Matchesfashion, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and other retailers, as well as its own e-commerce site, which grew substantially during the pandemic. “Our distribution is a balance between e-commerce, department stores and specialty stores,” he said, “and we’re really happy with the specialty store business we have.”
Even so, he expects to open “at least” six to eight additional Officine Générale stores within the next two years, he said.
“We had our best months ever in Paris in October and November — double our sales in 2019, which had been our best year to date,” he said. “People are starving to shop. We don’t open stores to be showrooms for the brand. It’s very hard to translate this experience online. Brick-and-mortar is not dead as long as there are human beings walking the streets.”