After a one-year absence, Mark Badgley and James Mischka are back in California with a 1,300-square-foot store in West Hollywood.

This story first appeared in the March 7, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The shop in the upscale Sunset Plaza district is far smaller than the unit Badgley Mischka occupied for seven years at Two Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. It has a gallery feel that suits the brand, featuring 25-foot ceilings, antique wood floors, bright lighting and white walls along with brushed metal racks and display cases.

“There’s lots of charm to it,” Mischka said. “It’s not a stamped-out industrial space, it’s really elegant. We love the old California feel. Our other store was very modern and sleek, this one is more soulful.”

Though the store opened in November, the pair waited until Thursday night to hold the launch party because they wanted the full line of merchandise to be delivered and a complete collection wasn’t available midseason.

The shop covers two levels, with a small bridal salon that doubles as a VIP area upstairs and a private back entrance and off-street parking — a rare commodity in the area. The bulk of the merchandise is displayed downstairs, from $400 sunglasses and $2,000 handbags to $10,000 signature gowns.

“Without question on Rodeo you get a lot of tourists — there’s an international customer base with the hotels there,” Badgley said. “Sunset Plaza is a more insider approach, it’s not the first stop on every tourist to-do list in Los Angeles. People in the know shop there.”

The Sunset Plaza store has a three-year lease with a five-year extension option, and the designers also are pursuing space in Beverly Hills. The lease on their previous 3,200-square-foot space expired in November 2006.

The boutique is operated by a licensee — Jacqueline Sassoon, who managed the closed Rodeo Drive store and has become a friend of the designers. Sassoon holds first-option rights to operate all the brand’s future U.S. stores.

“We had taken over a 10-year lease from Escada [in 1999] that was three years in, and the timing wasn’t right to renew it because we hadn’t signed our retail deal with Jacqueline yet,” Badgley explained of the lapse between the Rodeo store closure and Sunset Plaza opening.

It took about a year to find, lease and renovate the Sunset Plaza space, but Badgley said the wait built up demand for the label and the new store has been consistently busy.

The designers plan to expand beyond the Los Angeles market as well — other target locations for boutiques include Manhattan, Bal Harbour, Fla., and the Middle East.

The push for a retail presence highlights Badgley Mischka’s expansion from its signature red carpet eveningwear to a broader range of categories including sportswear, eyewear, bags, shoes and a fragrance line.

Iconix Brand Group Inc. acquired Badgley Mischka in 2004 from Escada and began infusing the brand with cash to fund expansion. Iconix executives projected last fall that Badgley Mischka would do about $45 million in wholesale sales for 2007, compared with almost $20 million in 2004.