Paul Stuart Advance

Sitting down? Paul Stuart, that bastion of traditionalism, is launching a genderless ath-leisure collection on Wednesday.

Called Paul Stuart Advance, the capsule was designed in collaboration with Mika Sato, a young contemporary Japanese designer who is the creative director of Bigi Holdings, a division of Mitsui & Co., Paul Stuart’s parent company.

Bigi is an apparel manufacturer that has created Japanese brands including Yoshie Inaba, Melrose and Papas, according to the Mitsui web site. It is best known for its contemporary fashion bent.

Paulette Garafalo, chief executive officer of Paul Stuart, said Sato approached the company about doing a partnership and Garafalo agreed, believing it could attract a younger customer to the business.

Sato visited the store — pre-coronavirus — and the team shared its archives with her and also took her to all the New York City landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, Garafalo said. Sato came away with a “modern take on what New York City is about,” she said, which included a much hipper, trendier — and genderless — take on fashion.

She then designed the ath-leisure-style collection, which includes sweatshirts, hoodies, T-shirts, flowy skirts and pants that Garafalo described as “shabby chic.”

Garafalo said the original collection included some pieces targeted to men’s, but Paul Stuart opted to just buy the items more geared toward women. “The men’s was a little extreme for the U.S. market,” she said.

Prices are also significantly lower than most Paul Stuart merchandise, with nothing selling for more than $200. “It’s very affordable,” she said.

The collection will be showcased in the company’s Madison Avenue windows, since the store is still closed, as well as online beginning Wednesday. It is already being sold in Japan. When the store is able to reopen its doors, the collection will be merchandised inside as well, Garafalo said.

“We don’t need the store to be open to tell this story,” she said.

Instead, Paul Stuart Advance will be marketed digitally to potential shoppers who have not historically been Paul Stuart shoppers. “This is not directed to the Paul Stuart customer,” she said. “It’s for a much younger person.”

She acknowledged that Paul Stuart has been “locked into a mature customer base for some time,” and Paul Stuart Advance is a way for the company to “test the waters” with a younger customer. There are plans to also create a fall collection, she added.

In addition to Paul Stuart Advance, the retailer this month launched Future Sport by Phineas Cole, a technically skewed sportswear line inspired by the 1936 Olympics and designed by Paul Stuart creative director Ralph Auriemma.

In the launch video, Auriemma described the line as not “a remake of a vintage sportswear collection” or one intended to be worn for track and field, “but for the city streets.”

The styling, pricing and aesthetic of that collection is much more in tune with Paul Stuart’s history. But like Paul Stuart Advance, Garafalo said, Future Sport is intended to appeal to the customer seeking ath-leisurewear. “That business has been fantastic,” she said, “with everyone working from home.”

Although all four of Paul Stuart’s U.S. stores remain closed, she said the two Chicago units have begun doing curbside pickups. And while business is only around 20 percent of what it would be in a normal month, it does allow the store to continue to communicate with its customers and bring in some cash.

Garafalo said the company’s e-commerce site has been growing by 100 percent every day during the pandemic, albeit from a tiny base.

“It doesn’t make up, or even come close, to our brick-and-mortar sales though,” she said.

Garafalo took over as ceo in June 2016 and is the first non-family member to helm the retailer. She has renovated the 45th Street flagship, heightened the focus on women’s wear and started to wholesale a number of products including shoes, robes and, this fall, hats. She also said the company will institute a drop-ship program for its wholesale clients that will start next month because “no one wants to hold inventory anymore.”

Mitsui bought the business from the founding family at the end of 2012. It had been the company’s Japanese licensee since 1975 and operates more than 100 Paul Stuart shops in Japan as well as two flagships in Tokyo.

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