Kirna Zabête, the four-unit, luxury multibrand retailer, is in expansion mode.
With stores in SoHo; East Hampton; Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and Palm Beach, Kirna Zabête will open three more stores over the next 15 months. The plan calls for a new 3,000-square foot store at 943 Madison Avenue (between 74th and 75th Streets) in New York by the end of this year, a 4,000-square-foot store in Green Hills in Nashville, Tennessee, in March, and a 3,000-square-foot store at the Miami Design District by the end of next year.
“Madison was a no-brainer. Though I’ve had a store in SoHo for 23 years, I’ve had a residence on the Upper East Side since 2001. I really understand who that customer is,” said Beth Buccini, owner of Kirna Zabête.
Buccini came close to having an Upper East Side store in 2016, “but the rent was too high at that point.” Now she’s on that same block, with the same landlord, and said she feels it was meant to be.
There are a massive amount of customers from uptown at Buccini’s SoHo outpost, including shoppers who won’t come downtown and have products messengered up to them.
“That uptown client is really shopping in my other stores in East Hampton and Palm Beach,” said Buccini. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have more of a direct conversation with that client,” she said. She said the store will take over from Joe Bananas, Australian men’s casualwear.
The Nashville store at 2001 Warfield Drive opening in March will be in a stand-alone building in Green Hills, in the former home of retailer Shindigs & Celebrations. Buccini said she loves Nashville because she’s from the South, her husband is a real estate developer, and she’s watched that city explode. “It’s absolutely electric, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was rated the number-one U.S. city for the most economic growth in 2021,” she said.
She chose Miami because those customers end up in her Palm Beach store every day, via the Brightline high-speed train or a car service. She actually looked at the Design District in 2008. “I believed in it then, and my God has it come a long way. There’s no multibrand store in the Design District, it’s basically a shrine to all monobrands,” she said.
“I love the art piece of it. I think it’s really fun … it’s a younger, international, sexy fun customer. That’s so much fun to buy for. We’ve seen how successful Florida has been for the company,” she added.
Buccini is using a residential interior designer Steven Gambrel of S.R. Gambrel for the three new stores. He designed both the Palm Beach and Bryn Mawr stores. “I wanted that residential feel to it. I want these spaces to feel very special and very personal jewel boxes, like you’re going into your best friend’s, who has the most exquisite taste in fashion, closet,” she said. Each of the stores will be tailored to the locations with both product and design, and carry exclusives.
Buccini finances the business herself, having bought out her partner Sarah Easley in 2015. She said her Palm Beach store currently does the most business. “As we all know, there was no COVID[-19] in Florida,” she quipped. “SoHo obviously has been really hurt by COVID[-19], the neighborhood was decimated, but SoHo is really coming back,” she said, speaking about her 10,000 square-foot location on Broome Street.
“We’ve built a super strong business with Khaite. I love that brand so much. I really believe wholeheartedly in them. They cover all categories and their bag and shoe business is incredibly strong these days. We also sell a lot of La DoubleJ and Johanna Ortiz. We’re growing our business with Victoria Beckham, Elder Statesmen, Magda Butrym and Silvia Tcherassi. We’ve added Miu Miu, which is doing really well. Sacai has been a business that’s really grown, and is one of our top-performing vendors across the board. Saint Laurent sells really well for us,” she said.
“My philosophy has always been I want to dress a woman seven days a week. I have four children — 19, 17, 16 and 13, so there are a lot of weekends on soccer and lacrosse fields, and I still want to look cute when I go there. There’s nothing like a great pair of jeans, sneakers and a great sweater,” she said.
As far as what jeans are performing well, she said Mother sells really well for them, and the new Khaite denim is really great. “We have A. Gold E and Nili Lotan does great denim,” she added.
Buccini believes the Kirna Zabête customer is multigenerational. Her favorite example is in the Palm Beach store at the Royal Poinciana Plaza where she has the grandmother, the mother and daughter all shopping at once. “And it happens on a regular basis, particularly around holidays, you see that on spring break or Christmas break. You have the grandmother who buys the most high-end amazing items, and then you have the mother buying the middle range, and you have the daughter buying the denim and the Golden Goose,” she said.
After buying out her partner, Buccini started expanding the following year and launched e-commerce in 2019. She said they’ve been bringing in more diverse and sustainable brands, as well as home offerings. The buying team is back to shopping in Europe, and also finds brands on Instagram.
Kirna Zabête does more business with the European brands than the U.S. ones but there’s a core of American brands that do very well for them, such as Adam Lippes, Khaite, Nili Lotan, Proenza Schouler, Mother Denim and Elder Statesman. They carry Alejandra Alonso Rojas and have added La Pointe.
Buccini said the Palm beach store, which is the newest one, is the most reflective of who they are and the direction they’re going in. “We put a lot of attention into detail in that store with special finishes,” she said.
Kirna Zabête’s SoHo store was closed down the longest because of the pandemic. When they were meant to reopen in June 2020, Buccini said the store was “massively looted” and “lost $750,000 worth of merchandise, and had incredible destruction to the store.”
“Every jewelry case was broken with sledgehammers and the mannequins were destroyed and the furniture was destroyed. Just going through the process of building back up the inventory, going through the insurance mess and getting all the furniture and mannequins repaired, we didn’t open again until November,” she said. The other stores were reopened in June 2020.
“Twenty-twenty was obviously incredibly tough but we tried hard not to let COVID[-19] crush us. We doubled down on what worked and what was selling, and what we thought our customer really wanted, and we pulled out out of there stronger than ever,” she said.
She said 2021 was the best year of business they ever had, and this year they are up 17 percent.
During COVID-19, online sales spiked, and e-commerce growth is up 31 percent this year, said Buccini. “We’ve not only maintained it but we’ve been able to push it forward,” she said.
Asked whether the customer is still going online or wants to come back to the stores, she said, “Definitely a mix of both.”
When she’s at the store talking to customers, she noted “you definitely feel people excited to come back and make the connection and talk and chat. They want the interaction. But they’re also used to shopping online. We’re seeing our customer go back and forth between the two.” Some customers will buy online and pick up in store, and the store will also send out a certain look from a fashion show, or go through people’s closets to see what they need.
“It’s a great way to really get to understand the client and what they need and see how they live,” she said.
Across the board, the store’s average unit retail is in the $700s.
Post-COVID-19, Buccini has found that her customers are more into “buy now, wear now.”
“When people show up in stores, there’s a lot of ‘I have a party tonight,’ or ‘next week is a Bar Mitzvah,’ or ‘I have a wedding in two weeks.'” Or, shopping for trips — “I felt like every one of our clients went to Europe this summer. There was a lot of revenge travel shopping for revenge travel,” she added.
For fall, things are getting “a little sexier,” she said.
“We’re seeing people going for a little more bare, a little shorter, a little tighter after two years of sweatpants. Lots of ostrich features everywhere, which is really fun.” In terms of outerwear, there’s a lot of texture and faux fur, great denim is coming from companies like Loewe, and matching sets are still happening (Miu Miu and Valentino), with plenty of leather, and lots of glitz and glamour. “It’s definitely wide leg and there’s pair of Khaite wide-legged pants that are a runaway hit,” she said.
Kirna Zabête’s business moved into new headquarters on Broadway, between Houston and Prince, and has 50 employees in total. “We have always been a massive ready-to-wear business,” said Buccini, noting that rtw accounts for 75 percent of the business.
Asked how she competes with department stores which constantly mark things down, she said, “It’s a massive thorn in my side. I think the vendors got the power back during COVID[-19]. With the Barneys and the Neiman’s bankruptcies, the vendors really pushed back with department stores, and that has really helped. We had such incredible sell-throughs last season, we didn’t have much to mark down at all. We just try to buy really smart, and we fine-tooth every single order that we turn in. I hate markdowns. I don’t want to mark it down. We just try to buy really well.”