Empty storefronts be damned: Despite the struggling state of retail in New York City, The Webster is finally coming to town.
Laure Heriard Dubreuil, founder of the trend-setting Miami retailer, has purchased an historic building in the heart of SoHo and will open a six-story, 12,000-square-foot boutique sometime later this year.
The store at 29 Greene Street between Grand and Canal Streets in the SoHo Cast-Iron Historic District changed hands for $6.1 million in 2013 and the company has quietly been working on it ever since. The building dates to 1878 and a fire had destroyed the top two floors several decades ago, requiring approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for The Webster to repair and restore the building.
“It’s such an amazing project,” an enthusiastic Heriard Dubreuil said. “We rebuilt three floors to look how they did originally and we built a penthouse on top.”
So although the store will span six stories, “it feels very intimate and residential,” she said. “Like The Webster in Miami, there won’t be any display windows on the street. It looks like a dollhouse — very private — but it also feels like home.”
Heriard Dubreuil admitted that many people said she was crazy for opening a store of this magnitude in New York City at this time. “I’m absolutely not crazy,” she said with a laugh. “The way my business is growing, it makes sense for us. People are looking for something different, someplace exclusive, a one-stop-shop.”
She said that with “so much retail in New York, our clients feel overwhelmed. They want to be pampered and go somewhere where they can take off their shoes and relax,” she said. “This will be like a gigantic closet and a safe haven.”
The Webster, which started life in South Beach in Miami in 2009, is respected around the world for its unique luxury mix overseen by Heriard Dubreuil, in a home-like setting complemented by custom furniture and contemporary artwork. The company has since expanded to other cities and now operates stores in Bal Harbour, Fla., Houston and Costa Mesa, Calif.
In the New York store, Heriard Dubreuil will offer men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, the debut of baby and children’s wear, a shoe salon and an assortment of exclusive home furnishings. The penthouse will be used for VIP clients and intimate in-store events.
“It’s very interesting and adds another layer to the store,” Heriard Dubreuil said.
The store will also boast a 1,600-square-foot full-service salon by hairstylist David Mallett, his third location overall and the first outside of Paris.
“Having him and his clients at The Webster will really extend our network,” she said.
This will be the second-largest store in the company’s fleet, she said, after the 20,000-square-foot Miami unit. It is expected to open later this year, although no date has been set, and will carry an assortment that will include Acne Studios, Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, Balmain, Chanel, Chloe, Courreges, Dior, Givenchy, Loewe, Maison Michel, Mark Cross, Marni, Pierre Hardy, Olympia Le Tan, Proenza Schouler, Raf Simons, The Row, Sies Marjan, Stella McCartney, Thom Browne, Valentino, Vetements, and others.
Heriard Dubreuil said at this point, there are no plans to open additional stores in New York, and she will concentrate all her energies in SoHo. “I’m creating something so special, people will want to come downtown,” she said. “It’ll be worth the trip.”
The store opening is also prompting other big changes at the company. The corporate offices will relocate from Miami to New York and Heriard Dubreuil is relinquishing her chief executive officer title to Cedric Aumonier, who has served as the company’s chief operating officer for the past several years. Laurent Malecaze, previously managing director, has been elevated to chief operating officer.
Heriard Dubreuil will now hold the title of founder and president.
She said that the management team shift is as a result of her travel schedule, buying responsibilities and the growth of the business. In addition to traveling, she also visits the stores and meets with customers — “That’s a big part of what I do,” she said. She has also collaborated with retailers as varied as Target, Le Bon Marche, Ritz Paris and Lane Crawford on special collections. “It takes a lot of time,” she said.
Growing e-commerce is also a strategy for the business. Currently online accounts for about 20 percent of sales and continues to grow. “It’s been quite incredible,” she said. Although the bulk of the business continues to be brick and mortar, she said the company is currently revamping its web site to better complement the store experience. While the U.S. remains The Webster’s largest market, the retailer also has a big business in Europe and Asia as well as Australia and even Africa, she said.
The purchase and renovation of the New York store was completely self-funded, she said, noting that at this time, The Webster has no outside investors. “This is our biggest milestone since South Beach,” she said. But that doesn’t mean she’s not open to taking to potential investors. “This is an extremely important step and we’ll see how things evolve. Never say never.”
The New York store will be designed in collaboration with Christopher Osvai, who has designed the company’s other branches. It will feature marble terrazzo flooring, vintage floral and geometric wallpapers, velvet serpentine banquettes, and aubergine metal and glass vitrines that are intended to be a nod to the construction of the New York City subway. The design will incorporate salvaged wood beams original to the building and a custom cast-iron and rondel glass sidewalk. There will be a life-size bronze flamingo by New York artist Rogan Gregory — the bird is the logo for the store — as well as a large-scale verre églomisé wall painting by Miriam Ellner, and artwork from Aaron Young, Nate Lowman, Adam McEwen, Nada Debs, Katie Stout and Gaetano Pesce.