NEW YORK — Downtown acolytes of Proenza Schouler no longer have to trek uptown to the label’s Madison Avenue boutique for its exclusive inventory of runway designs. The design duo has opened a flagship in SoHo, their second freestanding retail unit, which also carries much of the show collection.
This story first appeared in the October 7, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Located at 121 Greene Street, the 2,500-square-foot space is larger, lighter and sleeker than its uptown sibling, although both were conceived by Adjaye Associates and they share some design elements. “This is an evolution of our retail concept. It’s a little more elevated, it’s a little more fun,” said Lazaro Hernandez, one half of the Proenza Schouler team, during a walkthrough of the store prior to its opening this past weekend.
The SoHo unit is on two levels in a historic cast-iron building. The original facade was kept largely intact due to building code restrictions in the area. Shoppers enter through an antechamber that also houses the window display. Through this foyer, a sliding glass door opens automatically via sensor for entry into the selling space.
A key asset of this particular locale is an expansive skylight at the rear of the store, which is also blessed with double-height ceilings.
“We looked at a ton of spaces. This one felt right, with the back skylight so you get a lot of natural sunlight, which was important to us,” said Jack McCollough, the label’s other half. “SoHo has been such an iconic shopping area for us since we were young and coming to the city. To actually physically have a store here is kind of crazy. It’s really great.”
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The investment in a prime piece of SoHo real estate — the company inked a 10-year lease — comes as Proenza Schouler reaps the retail benefits of a string of widely praised collections and a growing maturity to their internal organization. The designers won the CFDA’s Womenswear Designer of the Year prize in June, their fifth trophy from those annual ceremonies.
“Internally, things are really working. The production is running smoothly, the merchandising is running smoothly, the clothes are selling,” said Hernandez. “It’s a great opportunity to capitalize on this interest and expand.”
That sentiment is shared by Bergdorf Goodman, which on Friday opened a new Proenza Schouler shop-in-shop dedicated to ready-to-wear on its third floor. The shop is adjacent to Céline, The Row and Michael Kors.
“They have transcended the ‘emerging brand’ status and are now becoming a pillar brand in the advanced designer world across categories,” said Joshua Schulman, president of Bergdorf Goodman. “In recent seasons, they have coupled their innovative design with a more complete merchandising to fully outfit their customer.”
Knitwear, tops and dresses have been among the strongest sellers in Proenza Schouler’s rtw at the luxury retailer. “We have had season after season of growth,” said Elizabeth von der Goltz, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of fine apparel, designer sportswear and jewelry at Bergdorf’s.
The Bergdorf Goodman shop joins three Nordstrom shops and two Saks Fifth Avenue shops, although most of the latter spaces are dedicated to Proenza Schouler’s bags. Overseas, there are existing or soon-to-open shops in Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marché in Paris, Harvey Nichols in London and Kuwait, two at separate Shinsegae units in Seoul, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and Central Embassy in Bangkok.
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In SoHo, Proenza Schouler’s nearby neighbors on Greene Street include Louis Vuitton, Dior Homme, Paul Smith, Hugo Hugo Boss and the always-jammed Apple store around the corner on Prince Street. The duo said the new store is “reactive” to what they liked and didn’t end up liking about their uptown store, which has darker wood design elements. “We knew we wanted something a little lighter and a little slicker maybe,” said Hernandez.
Thus, marble is a central material, installed on walls in right-angled geometric panels, fitting together like Tetris pieces. The conceit echoes the Madison Avenue store, except those panels are fashioned from concrete.
A floor-to-ceiling gunmetal screen, laced with Proenza Schouler’s signature geometric triangle pattern, looms large over the rear of the store — referencing a similar gate in bronze that fronts the Madison Avenue one. In this iteration, natural light from the glass canopy behind it streams through cutouts in the scrim, casting complex patterns on the refurbished timber floor.
The runway collection is in the front of the store, while pre-collection styles, denim, knitwear and T-shirts are merchandised toward the back. Many of the more extravagant designs are unavailable at wholesale accounts.
The duo pointed out lavish pieces in sheared fur, printed ponyskin and metal chain-link on the racks. Hernandez explained that the economics of selling in the company’s own store helped make some of the more exorbitant designs — such as a jacket constructed from leather intricately woven like a basket — more accessible. “It would be so expensive to sell anywhere else because you have to do the wholesale price and then the retail price. But this is direct to consumer, so the price is a little better,” he noted.
A poured concrete staircase behind the metal screen leads to the lower level, where shoes and accessories are given prime exposure. The ceiling above the basement space was eliminated, making the subterranean salon feel less like a cellar and more like a soaring atrium, particularly with the angled glass canopy above it. A small rainforest of plants is potted under the skylight, bringing a somewhat wild, untamed element to the store.
While Proenza Schouler has become closely identified with its PS1 line of bags, shoes are a newer focus for the brand. In December, the designers signed a new licensing deal with Iris SpA to manufacture and distribute its footwear after exiting a previous agreement with Vicini SpA.
Proenza Schouler is scouting locations for additional stores but no firm plans or timelines for further expansion have been nailed down. “It’s such a different animal opening up shops [in Europe]. You have to plan it out in a different way. There’s key money involved, so it gets trickier,” noted McCollough.
Walking around the store, Hernandez was slightly giddy about seeing the new Proenza Schouler billboard that recently went up on the corner of Houston Street and West Broadway. The image from the brand’s fall campaign, featuring model Sasha Pivovarova shot by David Sims, looms 34 feet high and 41 feet wide above the strategic corner. Hernandez showed off an iPhone photo he took of the larger-than-life advertisement. He recalled growing up with the iconic DKNY billboard that was once a seminal part of the Houston Street cityscape — now dominated on one stretch by the Proenza Schouler image.