Ports 1961 opens today on Melrose Place in West Hollywood, establishing the Canadian brand’s first U.S. flagship.

The commanding design element of the 1,400-square-foot space is the 18-foot-high wood truss ceiling — resembling the bottom of a

boat — that creative director Tia Cibani and New York architect Michael Gabellini discovered during interior demolition.

The brand is known for soft and feminine dresses, and the space is intended to reflect that vibe. Dresses sell for about $700 and tops for around $300.

“I wanted it to feel like my closet or my customer’s closet — not entirely perfect, but cozy, clean and private,” Cibani said. “It’s not harsh, sterile or clinical — that’s not us. I want it to feel comfortable.”

A sectional couch sits in the middle of the rectangular space, and long curtains can be pulled on tracks to section off areas of the store for privacy. There are mirrors along the back wall, and solid nickel clothing racks resembling drill bits are suspended from the ceilings with industrial wires. Lucite shelving also hangs from the ceiling on woven plastic fabric.

Most of the fixtures are modular and can be shifted for other uses: the racks may be moved from one area to another and a projector bolted to the ceiling will be used to show video footage across the store’s front window, which is lined with an adhesive film. Typically, the storefront will host simple visual displays.

Melrose Place was chosen for its homey yet elegant feel, Cibani said. Ports 1961 signed the 10-year lease in November 2006, before rents on the street, where Marc Jacobs and Carolina Herrera, among others, are located, reached their current high of $18 to $20 a square foot.

The design process was lengthy. Gabellini said the goal was to design specifically around the core Ports customer. “The store reflects the Ports girl, with a modern sophistication, someone with a global mind-set and who travels,” he said.

The brand is also in the midst of renovating a four-story town house in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, but structural challenges and the need for additional construction on the 150-year-old house have delayed the store opening to the end of 2008.

This story first appeared in the April 9, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It’s this gorgeous historic home, but it’s so old, some of it’s just falling apart around us,” Cibani said. “We’re having to rebuild while maintaining the integrity and character of the original structure, which is a very delicate balance and it’s taking longer than we thought.”

Cibani, who splits her time between New York and Xiamen, China, where the line is manufactured, said she’ll be spending much more time in Los Angeles now that the store is open. She said the brand is not looking to expand into Europe anytime soon, or elsewhere in the U.S. immediately.

“We really want to focus on making our New York and L.A. stores successful,” Cibani said. “I feel that you need to do what’s in front of you first. A mass rollout strategy doesn’t have a heart and that’s not us. It’s too corporate and calculated. It’s important to be natural and organic and do what works for the brand.”

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