NEW YORK — The opening of Parasuco’s first flagship here tonight is the culmination of an infatuation with a former bank building and an investment of more than $12 million.
Salvatore Parasuco, the Italian-born founder and president of the Canadian denim firm, said he views the event as a reintroduction of the brand to the U.S. and to the world.
“The whole retail world is invading New York, but Parasuco is invading the world from New York,” he said.
The hunt for a New York flagship site began more than five years ago and lead to 60 Spring Street, a 15-story limestone structure completed in 1927 that was the former home of the East River Savings Bank. The complexities of Manhattan real estate came to bear, and Parasuco was unable to broker a deal to buy the building’s retail space. The entire site was sold to a developer, and the bank space that occupied the ground floor and basement was rented for parties and the occasional fashion show. It wasn’t until last July that Parasuco finally was able to purchase the building’s 10,000 square feet of retail space.
“I have this thing for banks,” he said.
It’s actually his third, having converted his first bank in Montreal into a store nine years ago and a second in Toronto, where he plans to open a Parasuco hotel.
“I love the architecture, the history, and all these beautiful bank buildings are in very good downtown locations,” he said. “There’s a grandeur and longevity about it. You don’t get tired of it.”
The location provides the space and elegant setting Parasuco wants in order to present the brand as a premium lifestyle collection, but it also presents challenges. The building is on the corner of Spring and Lafayette Streets, a quiet area by Manhattan standards and a border zone between the trendy SoHo and up-and-coming NoLIta neighborhoods. Parasuco said he had looked at several locations on Broadway in the heart of SoHo, including one doors away from Bloomingdale’s. Ultimately, he felt the store and the brand would fare better if they didn’t get lost in the retail clutter of the area.
“Yes, maybe we have to work a little harder to attract people to that area,” Parasuco said. “Some people have said we’re expanding the SoHo retail area.”
There have been early signs that the store may have little trouble drawing the necessary foot traffic. Throughout the yearlong restoration and construction, passersby and those who live in the area have stopped to peek in. Weeks ago, as construction workers were finishing the buildout and store employees were beginning to stock shelves, a steady stream of people strode in to take a look when the doors were left open. Most said they were relieved that the building was being restored and prepared for use.
“There’s an attachment to the area,” Parasuco said. “People want to see it rejuvenate and in the right way. We’re happy to receive all these compliments from people.”
Parasuco expects the buzz generated from the store to quicken the pace of retail development in the U.S. “I think once the New York store opens it will show a lot of real estate people in the U.S. how serious we are and how attractive we are,” said Parasuco. “Once you have an example people can see it makes things start moving faster.”
He also hopes that the company’s willingness to invest in restoring unique or historical buildings will serve as additional marketing for the brand and make it more attractive in global markets. “It has a trickle- down effect around the world,” Parasuco said.
The store is part of a campaign the company launched 18 months ago to reposition the brand and fuel wholesale growth, which represents about 85 percent of its business. Parasuco opened his first store in Montreal out of frustration with retail buyers who bought only the company’s jeans offerings. Opening stores got the collection directly to consumers and increased sales across the board.
“The retailers appreciated the fact that we were willing to invest in such a way that showed we were serious about our product,” Parasuco said.
He hopes the New York flagship will have the same impact and has designed the store accordingly. Retailing will be on the street level. A separate entrance will lead to the basement, where the company’s wholesale showroom and private shopping departments will be housed.
While declining to reveal revenue figures for the privately held company, Parasuco said the repositioning has resulted in business declining 35 percent over the past two years. The current collection includes T-shirts that retail for between $40 and $98, jeans that range from $100 to $600 and line of women’s tops for $54 to $98.
New York also marks the first in a series of store openings in major U.S. cities planned over the next several years. The next store is to bow in San Francisco on Sept. 29. Parasuco is searching for sites in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago. As with New York, he’s willing to wait for a unique location.
“We’ve been looking in L.A. for a good 18 months and still haven’t come up with the right thing,” he said.
Parasuco said it takes six to 12 months to settle on a location for a new store. Los Angeles is taking longer because he wants to incorporate the store, a restaurant and possibly even design studios for the company’s People for Peace label.
“L.A. is very much, well, you’ve got to be on wheels, right? So, we have to give more than one reason to stop by our place,” Parasuco said.
As for the popularity of premium denim, Parasuco said he’s starting to see momentum wane. With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, he’s confident he has the experience and product to survive. It may be different for the players who have flooded the market in the past six years.
“It’s something I’ve relived three times in my career,” said Parasuco, citing the popularity of acid wash jeans in the late Eighties as an example.
Many hopped on the premium denim bandwagon, and did little more than “making garments out of denim fabrics,” he said.
“It’s not hard to put out a new collection, but it’s hard to continue it with consistent quality and fit,” Parasuco said. “Designing it and making it are two different things.”