Margaret O’Leary, the San Francisco designer known for her cashmere knitwear, opened her first New York store on Friday at 279 Mott Street in NoLIta.
The designer already has 10 stores dotted around the West Coast, in San Francisco, Berkeley, Mill Valley, Burlingame, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach and Venice Beach, Calif., as well as Portland, Ore., and Seattle. The New York store, with its clean, modern aesthetic, is her first on the East Coast.
“I was eating in the neighborhood one night last December and thought this neighborhood had such personality,” said O’Leary, chief executive officer and designer. “It’s a little jewel box in NoLIta.”
The 800-square-foot boutique was designed by Cass Calder Smith, an architect who has done all her stores. Interior elements feature aged wood balancing the texture of knits featured on crisp white display islands and hanging crocheted lamps. At the back of the store are two dressing rooms and an outdoor patio. O’Leary anticipates the store will generate first-year volume of $1.35 million. Overall, O’Leary’s business does about $16 million in sales through her retail and wholesale channels, as well as her Web site. Her wholesale accounts include Madison in Los Angeles, Pearl in St. Helena, Calif., Maxwell & Co. in Falmouth, Mass., and Wendy in Santa Barbara, Calif.
O’Leary said she would like to open two more stores in New York — on the Upper East Side and on Bleecker Street. She’s also interested in Boston, Westport, Conn. and Greenwich, Conn.
Born in Ireland, O’Leary emigrated to San Francisco in 1990 and never looked back. “I bought a non-return flight to San Francisco with knitting needles in hand,” said O’Leary, who learned to knit when she was a little girl. Having 11 brothers and sisters, her mother constantly knitted clothes for her children. O’Leary began creating hand-loomed knitwear in her San Francisco apartment and selling her designs to local boutiques. Within a year, she was discovered by Barneys New York, and the business grew from there. The success of the knitwear prompted her to open her first store in San Francisco’s Claude Lane. Celebrities such as Kate Hudson, Madonna, Marcia Cross, Jennifer Garner, Kaley Cuoco, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Halle Berry have been spotted in her knits. For spring 2015, she looks to expand the knitwear line into more of a lifestyle collection, adding leggings, skirts, cotton underpinnings, shirtings and washed linen T-shirts.
O’Leary’s knits are designed in San Francisco and manufactured in Asia and Peru. They run the gamut from ultrasoft mixed-gauge basic cashmere crews and waffle Ts to slouch sweaters, chunky cable pullovers, V-neck cashmere sweaters and cashmere hoodie coats. Colors range from gray and squirrel to navy, olive and camel. The line retails from $150 to $595, with the sweet spot being $350 for cashmeres and $175 for cottons.
As a nod to New Yorkers, there’s a special “black and white section,” featuring black-and-white striped pullovers, leather-trimmed vertical striped dresses and leather-trimmed cardigans. O’Leary will ship new product every month. In addition to knitwear, the shop will carry select handbags and belts by Calleen Cordero, a Hollywood designer. Clutches retail for $300 and handbags go as high as $795. The shop will also carry jeans from Paige Denim and AG “just to have an option for the customer if they want to dress head to toe,” she said.
Ultimately, O’Leary said she would love to have a fleet of 20 stores.
“I love retail. I can control how the product looks and how it is shown. I like the ongoing communications with the clients who come back year after year,” she said.