Chris Leba has opened his first R13 store, an 1,800-square-foot unit on storied Howard Street, a four-block thoroughfare in Manhattan that counts non-conformist designer Rick Owens as a denizen, along with innovative retailer Opening Ceremony and consignment and limited-edition sneaker retailer Stadium Goods. Palace Skateboards’ Howard Street unit features a replica of Mannekin Pis, the Brussels statue of a small boy urinating into a fountain, and there’s Smile-to-go, an outpost of the popular Smile on Bond Street, and Guild by Roman and Williams, which sells home design, French food and flowers.
R13 has made the most of its long, narrow space at 34 Howard Street, exposing brick walls and concrete floors. “Howard Street has its own magic. It was time to have another outlet to express the brand. If the store is successful, we’ll want to open more,” said Leba, who calls the street a “fashion piazza.”
A succession of five monolithic 13.2-foot x 9-foot LED screens flash with imagery from the Eighties of London street-inhabited punks. Behind each giant screen is housed a modular rack displaying pieces from the collection, with a cross-section of merchandise chosen by Leba.
“I wanted to create a shop experience that could compete with e-commerce,” Leba said. “I batted around some ideas. I thought of all my favorite shop experiences. I thought about Comme des Garçon’s store on Wooster Street, and the Helmut Lang stores. I wanted to create something exciting and dynamic.”
The designer said he wanted the space to be pure, minimal and modern. “There are no lights hanging from the ceiling. Rather, 13 fluorescent lights are embedded in the ceiling in formation and look like an installation of light art. It’s very yin and yang.”
Leba said he settled on the LED screens because they offer endless possibilities for content. “As we settle in, we’ll start to play with the content. We have the ability to create newness. We’ll change the content so when the customer comes, back we’ll be able to offer them a new experience.”
The new R13 store is expected to do $3 million in sales in its first year, according to sources.
The brand captures America’s rebellious spirit, he said. For example, Leba applied tie dyeing techniques to elevated materials such as Italian linen for a boyfriend blazer, $1,445, and trousers, $695; cashmere cotton T-shirts, and hoodies, which are embellished with sequins, and kimono dress, $575. A fan of classic Hawaiian prints, Leba turned a yellow surfer fabric into tailored pieces, a play on the casual nature of the shirts. There’s a tailored boyfriend jacket with embroidery, and yellow surfer tuxedo vest with black lapels and embroidery, $1,995.
“The flannel shirt is one of our key messages. This one has fringes,” he said, holding up an example. “The brand is very progressive, but rooted in Americana.” Leba said he pays homage to the Other America that manifests itself in a provocative underground culture of art.
Behind the last monolithic screen is a denim bar. Leba is planning to replace the back wall opposite the denim bar with floor-to-ceiling glass. On the other side of the wall there’s additional space that the designer plans to use for events such as panel discussions, tutorials and client meet-and-greets.
Leba revealed that R13 has a strong celebrity following, including Beyoncé, and Justin and Hailey Bieber, who actually pay for products. “Kaia Gerber and Kendall Jenner wore the brand at Coachella,” he said. Pointing to a World War II tie dyed and anorak embroidered with skull patterns in red silk thread, $895, Leba said, “Adele just purchased this piece,” emphasizing the word “purchased.”
R13 is starting to create more men’s wear, including core products and Army fatigues, Leba said. The brand’s wholesale clients include Barneys New York, Net-a-porter, Shopbop and Bergdorf Goodman. The new R13 store will have one-of-a-kind pieces available exclusively to the Howard Street location.
The designer in 1989 moved to New York and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology. He began his career at J. Crew and later worked at Tommy Hilfiger, American Eagle Outfitters and Polo Ralph Lauren. He launched R13 in 2009. For the brand’s 10th anniversary this year, Leba said the company will go to Tulum, Mexico, to celebrate.