True Religion London store rendering

California denim brands True Religion and Guess eye new opportunities in the Old World.

While True Religion is unveiling a new retail concept in London that melds a reinvented denim bar with digital technology, Guess is opening a flagship in Moscow as a forerunner of 40 additional units in Russia.

“We actually sense that international growth for us, a brand of our size, is an imperative,” said John Ermatinger, True Religion’s chief executive officer.

True Religion’s target opening of the 1,900-square-foot on London’s Carnaby Street on June 1 coincides with Ermatinger’s one-year anniversary at the Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based company, which was acquired by TowerBrook for $835 million in 2013. Though declining to divulge finances for the privately held firm, he acknowledged that his return to the denim industry after posts at Tommy Hilfiger, Levi Strauss & Co. and Gap Inc. has called for a much different way of operating in dramatically changed dynamics. “The waters are quite choppy,” he said.

To ease the route toward growth, True Religion is solidifying its presence in London, where it runs two freestanding stores and one outlet, benefits from strong partnerships with Selfridges and Harrods and considers adding concessions with a couple of other department stores.

Enamored with Carnaby’s past immersed in music and fashion, as well as what he dubbed “the quaintness and the boutique nature of the environment,” Ermatinger said True Religion is giving a modern spin to retail that requires an omnichannel approach to serve a savvy consumer.

“Every brand has to find the Rubik’s cube, if you will, in its omnipresence,” he said. “Consumers are more savvy globally. It doesn’t matter where you are. You can be in Lebanon, London, Paris, New Orleans. The consumer is going to be ever present and savvy, especially with their smartphone.”

The new retail concept is based on digital stimulation from touch screens and iPads, a personalization tool called Black Book that can text customers on their phones with information about new products, and a denim bar, which, in Ermatinger’s words, will be “the center of our universe.” An antithesis to the retail industry’s standard for a flagship, which often encompasses 5,000 square feet, True Religion’s new concept is purposely “more intimate,” he said. “You’ll have more points for discovery. There will be less product out. You’ll have more of a digital support system that will allow you to access product from around the world.”

Once True Religion christens the London outpost, it’ll introduce the same concept in New Orleans in a 1,700-square-foot store opening on Canal Street on June 10. By then, it’ll count a total of 97 full-priced stores and 50 outlets. More could be on the horizon. Ermatinger said the company’s approach is: “Let’s get London mapped and do that right and have something to point to as a success story for the rest of Europe.”

Los Angeles-based Guess is also taking a new concept store to Europe. Following a joint venture formed this past February with what it would only describe as “a local Russian partner,” Guess said it will soon open a flagship in Moscow’s Europeisky Mall. Located near the city center, the mall includes 500 other retailers.

The company said the new store will be in line with the restyled global denim concept store that it bowed this year. “The clean white setting, with bright high-tech lights, contrasting materials and glamorous details, creates a decidedly contemporary feel, while flexible modular panels make for a dynamic, ever-changing space,” it said. Moreover, the store will feature a layout that spotlights the brand’s heritage via digital videos.

Already operating 30 stores in the country, it is planning for 10 new single-brand stores this year. The brand’s framework for the next three years includes the addition of 40 new units in the country.

“The opening reflects Guess’ strategy of maintaining strong direct control over brand development in the Russian market,” it said.

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