NEW YORK — Two industry veterans are striking out in a new venture. Susan Sokol, founder of Susan Sokol Consultancy, and Suzanne Zikas, president of Rachel Zoe Collection, plan to open a multiline luxury showroom in New York in September featuring high-end apparel and accessories from about a dozen designers.
Called High Alchemy, the business will be based at 584 Broadway in SoHo. The concept is to help established and emerging brands gain a foothold in specialty and department stores, as well as online, and service those accounts, while providing guidance and business strategy to the designers.
Sokol, whose background includes the presidency of J.Mendel, Vera Wang, Donna Karan New York and Calvin Klein Women’s Collection, and Zikas, who previously held top sales and leadership roles for designers such as Donna Karan, Vera Wang, J.Mendel and Kaufmanfranco before becoming president of Rachel Zoe, have worked together in several of those companies. Zikas has established strong relationships with U.S. and international specialty and department stores, while Sokol brings big picture strategy, merchandising and operations know-how to the partnership.
Having worked as a consultant over the past four years, Sokol said she found that the hardest things for young designers is to establish a voice in the market and have their merchandise placed in stores. Many young designers don’t have access to the best stores and buyers, and if they do get their collection in stores, they’re at a loss as to how to nurture the business to achieve successful sell-throughs, Sokol explained.
There are many contemporary multibrand showrooms in the market, but none are focused exclusively on luxury, she said. “We want to bring in talented designers who have an ability to scale with the help of our guidance and mentorship,” she said. They are in contact with several designers and will reveal their names at a later date.
The partners have been developing the concept since last August and are working on contracts with a dozen brands. Some of the collections might be more conservative, and others more edgy. “Each has their own personality,” Sokol said. The collections will include clothing, accessories and some unexpected categories for the home. In addition to having a fully operation multibrand New York showroom 12 months a year — not just during market weeks — Sokol and Zikas will take the collections to Paris four times a year to show international stores.
Zikas said it’s not just about selling into the best specialty stores, it’s providing product knowledge for the salespeople, arranging trunk shows and organizing events at the stores. “We will work with them so they [the stores and salespeople] champion the brand,” Sokol said.
Under their business model, High Alchemy will take a percentage of sales and charge the designers showroom rent. Sokol estimates that 60 percent of their clients will be American designers and 40 percent international ones.
They are in the process of building out the nearly 5,000-square-foot space that will include showrooms, sales offices and a lounge bar. They plan to have eight people working at the company in total.
Part of the criteria in selecting the designers is the brand needs to have the financial and operational support and their production and shipping procedures in place. Sokol and Zikas are financing the business themselves.
Despite the challenges in the brick-and-mortar world right now, Sokol believes that the luxury customer still enjoys the experience of shopping at a store.
“Certainly, business is challenging right now, but that customer likes being in a beautiful four-walled environment and getting the service from a specialty store and having that personalization within an interesting environment. Women love to shop that way. The smaller, more inventive retailers are doing well,” Sokol said.