LOS ANGELES — Vivienne Westwood has returned to the United States with a store here expected to be the springboard for further retail expansion, and a message to Americans that her merchandise is not always as eccentric as her personality.
While the iconoclastic designer has made headway across the globe with more than 300 stores, she’s had ups and downs in the U.S. A store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood owned by partner Itochu Corp. was shuttered after 9/11 and wholesale operations largely ceased, leaving the British brand without a U.S. retail presence and with a limited wholesale distribution that barely scratches the surface of department stores.
Vivienne Westwood bought the Los Angeles store, which opened Friday on Melrose Avenue, for an estimated $5.5 million as part of an effort to reboot its business in America. After this store, the brand is planning to add units primarily through real estate purchases rather than leasing in at least five other North American cities that could include New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Costa Mesa, Calif., and Vancouver.
Carlo D’Amario, Westwood’s managing director, indicated real estate investments will help the company take root in the U.S. without chasing sales to cover rent checks. He also underscored that acquiring the 10,000-square-foot building on Melrose Avenue — which is divided between the ground-floor retail space, a second-level showroom and a rooftop event space — allowed the brand to do what it pleased designwise among a group of its designer peers. Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs have set up shops on the street as well.
“If you go to Rodeo Drive, every shop is the same. Here, it is more creative, more open,” said D’Amario. “Rodeo was good 35 years ago. Maybe this will become the new Rodeo in 20, 25 years.” He added, “Now is the time to invest. Before we [made] money in America, and we invested in Asia. Now, we [make] money in Asia and invest in America.”
The brand has performed well on the West Coast, which currently is responsible for 70 percent of its wholesale sales, according to chief executive officer Cristiano Minchio. He said about 120 U.S. specialty and online stores currently carry the label. D’Amario argued Los Angeles is on the rise as a fashion hot spot, buoyed by its strong Asian customer base and its position as the window to the Pacific.
“We think Los Angeles after London, and Hong Kong is the top city in the world,” said D’Amario. “Hong Kong is the door of Asia, the door of the money. London is the capital of Europe and Middle East, and Los Angeles is America for us.”
Of the city, Andreas Kronthaler, creative director of Vivienne Westwood, said, “We have fond memories of our time there and especially love the influence of Old Hollywood. Vivienne’s designs speak to this timeless sentiment.”
The Westwood store is intended to begin to change American minds about the designer. In this country, D’Amario used the adjectives “strange” and “crazy” to describe how consumers perceive her. Elsewhere in Asia and Europe, where she has a developed brand, he emphasized consumers have a more well-rounded vision of it. To move Americans closer to that fuller vision, the store carries Vivienne Westwood’s complete assortment, from the Anglomania line priced from $120 to $800, to Gold Label that is $4,000 and up.
The store design, based on the brand’s flagship template, presents Westwood’s bold side, while accentuating her classicism. The nearly nine-foot-long neon pink sign of Vivienne Westwood’s signature on the exterior is against a backdrop of limestone that enshrouds the entire building. Inside, a walnut wood floor weaved into a herringbone pattern and blush pink walls that ascend to 25 feet in the women’s area and lower to 12 feet in the men’s give the store a gallery feel, while a pink Swarovski Elements chandelier with the brand’s logo adds whimsy. Traditional Savile Row mannequins are dressed with the latest of Westwood’s creations.
Westwood’s global sales are more than $400 million, but Minchio pointed out that only a sliver of that total — about 6 percent — is done in the U.S. That leaves ample opportunity for growth, and he and D’Amario believe the brand can easily double its business in five years. “After we open this first store, we are going to have a big change for everything,” D’Amario said. “I think in general American people don’t see our presence.”