The dream just came true for John Elliott.
The buzzy West Coast-based designer — and self-professed “former shopkid” — has opened his first retail store, a 3,500-square-foot space at 8808 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.
Elliott, who has gained a following since launching his athletically skewed luxury men’s streetwear collection eight years ago, grew up skateboarding on the streets of San Francisco and got his start in fashion by working at Villains, a well-known streetwear store in that city in the Nineties.
Now he’s finally opening a shop with his name on the storefront. And he’s all in: Elliott will also move his corporate offices to a space above the store.
“I’m excited but it has the feel like before a show,” the designer told WWD as he got ready to open the doors. “Being able to walk into the space and watch it evolve hour to hour is a thrill, but it still feels like a big show.”
He said the brand committed to the space in December but had been “aggressively” searching for a site since last August. When the space on Melrose became available, it felt like “a huge breakthrough,” he said. “I live less than a mile away and I frequent the area so it felt really natural to me. I know who’s on the street and the shopper that goes there.”
Elliott is in good company. His store is located next door to A Bathing Ape and John Varvatos’ longtime Los Angeles flagship. Across the street is Maxfield’s, which he described as “a must-visit if you’re traveling to L.A. and a place you need to check every season if you live here.” Down the block is Acne as well as the new Palace store.
“There feels like there’s a lot of energy on the street,” he said. “It’s really amped up. There’s more traffic and a real curiosity among L.A. patrons.”
Elliott said he wanted to open a store for two reasons: First, it allows him to “be hands-on and get to know my consumer. The brand has been around eight years and our main channel has been our own e-commerce site,” he said.
“Driving around L.A., I don’t have X-ray vision and can’t see into people’s cars and see how they’re wearing the line with their own attitude and personal style. We look forward to having direct access to feedback, and discussions that will help shape our brand and design decisions.”
The second reason was strictly business. “It’s a new channel of revenue for us,” he said. “We hired a really experienced staff and we think we can do well.”
In designing the store, Elliott made sure to reference both California and his adopted hometown of Tokyo, where he spends a lot of time working on research and development of the brand and its materials. As a result, there is Japanese matte white tile on the outside of the building with a technical white covering and a Japanese-style lightbox off the exterior.
Custom concrete pillars are used to display the collection, a reference to the California coastline at UC San Diego’s Geisel Library and the Salk Institute. The lighting is intended to mimic natural daylight to enhance the shopping experience.
The store will carry both the men’s and women’s collections and there will be weekly drops like that on the designer’s e-commerce site, along with art installations.
At the center of the store, Elliott will display his core French terry, jersey and denim offerings alongside collaboration projects from Nike as well as Japanese niche brands Suicoke, M.A.R.S. and Blackmeans.
The back of the store will showcase the brand’s footwear and there will also be a Japanese garden with a specially sourced bamboo hybrid that can grow in the California climate. Glass benches will allow shoppers to sit and examine textiles used in the collection.
“We are intentionally prioritizing the connection to our first store space. Our business is still largely direct-to-consumer, and for us that has been only online thus far,” he said. “We look forward to really being able to get to know our customers.”
Elliott also has a little more than 300 wholesale accounts.
In the store, the mix will be evenly split between men’s and women’s wear, although men’s may skew slightly higher because the Nike collaboration product is all men’s wear.
Elliott launched his first women’s collection in February 2018, and has been slowly growing the category since then. This year, it is expected to represent more than 20 percent of sales, he said.
“We’ve been in survival mode for eight years,” he said. “We never do something just for the industry or to make a statement. It has to make sense from a business perspective. We’ve spent a lot of time and invested a lot in women’s and we’ve seen steady growth. It’s really encouraging and performing above what we had forecast.”
Elliott admitted that he’s also had some stumbles along the way, including his attempt to get into tailoring. “Sometimes you go out on a limb and take a risk and not everything works. It’s humbling, but I take my medicine and the lessons I learned informs our product development how to do better,” he said.
With the exception of a few Japanese books and magazines and several Aesop pieces — a personal favorite of the designer’s — the store will carry no other third-party brands. Everything else is either John Elliott or the collaboration product.
Elliott has been working with Nike for the past three years and the store will allow him to further that relationship over the next few years by having a physical location to sell the latest drops.
The other collaboration product will include leather outerwear from Blackmeans; jewelry by M.A.R.S., its first time sold on U.S. soil, and Suicoke sandals. Although the sandals were initially created for one of his runway shows, they “turned into a real business,” he said. “Kanye wore them to Ralph Lauren’s 50th anniversary party.”
He said that although “you can do an incredible job storytelling on social, there’s nothing like seeing the brands in person and trying them on. And we hope it’ll help make the store dynamic and help people discover that we’re an interesting brand that has things beyond Japanese denim jeans. There’s a rich story there.”
Elliott said he’s focused on getting the store open for business and hasn’t decided where he’ll have his next runway show. He’s done several in New York as well as Paris. Could L.A. be next? “I truly don’t have an answer yet,” he said.
Ditto for whether he’ll open any other stores.
“I want to do this one really well first,” he said. “Execute it, get the doors open and then reassess. But I can’t help but daydream what a store would look like in Tokyo.”