It took two decades to take the plunge, but one of Argentina’s most successful designers has begun making her mark in the U.S.
Maria Cher, who started her women’s brand 20 years ago in Buenos Aires, decided now was the right time to bring her distinct aesthetic to the American market. Last September, she started working with the multibrand showroom Findings in New York and Los Angeles, and unveiled her first boutique on Bleecker Street in Manhattan two months later. Four weeks ago, she quietly added a second unit at 1071 Madison Avenue.
Within the first four days of the uptown store’s soft opening, the brand met its sales goal for the month and had to extend store hours to accommodate the foot traffic that was 80 percent more than anticipated.
Although she’s still flying under the radar in the States, in her home country, she’s a big star and operates 28 stores in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Cher, whose given name is Maria Chernajovsky, has become known for her yin-and-yang approach to fashion — and life. Her ethnic background includes Ukraine and Italy and she prides herself on being able to balance opposing perspectives of femininity and masculinity, both in her collection and her personality. She is also known for her longtime commitment to social justice on women’s reproductive rights and helping them learn skills to join the workforce.
As far as her collection is concerned, she draws on classic silhouettes from the late ’70s and ’80s and reimagines them in colorful prints and colors. Her boutique showcases flowy silk dresses in brush painted artist-rendered patterns alongside her trademark jumpsuits that feature utilitarian details and an assortment of oversize pants, another signature of the Maria Cher line. Retail prices of the dresses are $595 to $800, a jumpsuit is $590 for sleeveless and $750 for a long sleeve, and her pleated pants are $450.
These have been among the bestsellers on Madison Avenue since the opening among the local residents who have discovered the newest addition to their neighborhood. They have been drawn into the bright 1,000-square-foot space with its neutral palette of travertine and plaster and concrete furniture custom designed by Studio Poa. A carved plaster column holds accessories and small leather goods, also designed by Cher.
Cher, who studied at Central Saint Martins in London, said growing up, she always loved fashion but felt it was “too superficial.” So she set out to create a line that would “have a voice,” she said.
“Fashion is the place to say things,” she added. “I like to make special things, but also things you can wear everywhere. It’s kind of a contradiction, but my line is very feminine and very masculine at the same time.” For example, she said, she likes to wear one of her printed dresses but with a tight-fitting vest on top.
Her distinct approach to fashion is already finding fans in the U.S. Although sales in the store are already exceeding plan, she has also seen a significant uptick in the e-commerce business, even though the company has no real social media presence here. “Nobody knows us in the U.S.,” she said. “But people are coming in here and then buying online.”
The Bleecker Street store has a different aesthetic and a different customer, she said, one that is a bit more edgy than the upscale, sophisticated Upper East Side shopper.
Although new to the States, Cher has amassed a wholesale roster of 70 accounts, with Elyse Walker representing some 40 percent of the brand’s business in the U.S. Cher said the plan is not to sell to the major retailers right now as she gets her feet wet in the U.S. market, although that could change in the future.
The brand is self-funded and her husband, Gabriel Brener, runs the business end of the company, so growth needs to be deliberate and not overly aggressive.
That being said, Cher admitted that she eventually would love to be part of the U.S. fashion community, holding runway shows and continuing to expand her footprint. But she doesn’t want to overreach.
“We’ll see what happens,” she said. “The universe will tell us where to go.”