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COSTA MESA, Calif. — SoCa, St. John’s new better contemporary line targeting a younger customer, launches its first freestanding store today in South Coast Plaza here.

This story first appeared in the October 23, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The casual lifestyle collection aimed at women 35 to 55 years old is being showcased in a 2,500-square-foot space in the mall’s new Penthouse wing adjacent to Christian Louboutin and Oscar de la Renta.

The store features a black, white and yellow Hollywood Regency theme, with two large rooms designed to look like the interior of a Southern California bungalow. From the picture windows that allow customers to see inside, to the saffron yellow sofas, white curtains, black coffee tables and black sisal flooring, the space has an open, residential feel.

It is merchandised with SoCa’s debut collection, Resort. The first delivery comprises a black, white and tan ode to Yves Saint Laurent’s safari collection. Retail prices range from $295 for knit short shorts to $1,395 for a gold leather bomber jacket.

Also for sale are St. John sandals and flats produced by Stuart Weitzman, and one-of-a-kind hats and necklaces that were made for a SoCa runway show at Neiman Marcus. Eventually, St. John plans to license SoCa accessories.

“We wanted to open in time for the November and December holiday season,” St. John chief executive officer Glenn McMahon said. “This will be a new adventure. Being so close to the store, [St. John is based in Irvine, Calif.] we will find out what the customer responds to.”

Operating separately from St. John’s signature label, SoCa may be the boldest initiative McMahon has undertaken since being named ceo in September 2007.

The second SoCa store will be in Palm Desert, Calif. The company is looking for space in Los Angeles and New York. The line is set for about 125 doors, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.

Vice president of design Greg Myler described pieces such as chiffon halter tops, lurex cardigans, stretch cotton sateen shirt dresses and jacquard jackets as “ageless and fashion-forward. Not all the clothes are for a size 0. They have a true American fit,” he said of the 2 to 14 size range.

The line hit West Coast Nordstrom stores on Friday, which reported strong sales on the leather jacket and short shorts.

“Stores need newness in this category; Tory Burch has been huge, but stores need more than one resource,” McMahon said, referring to SoCa’s wholesale partners. “Sometimes trying times are the best time to try something new.”

McMahon estimated freestanding store sales at $1,500 to $1,700 a square foot (most units will average about 1,800 square feet) and $1,000 to $1,200 a square foot in department stores.

Rather than show the collection in a traditional runway show for buyers and press, St. John plans to hold local fashion events open to the public, such as at the Nov. 14 Music for the Cure benefit in Laguna Beach, Calif.

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