‘LIPSTICK DISTRICT’ EXPANDS BEYOND SOHO

Byline: Kerry Diamond

NEW YORK — SoHo no longer has a lock on the downtown beauty business.
Over the past few years, as corporate and independent companies sought some control over their distribution by opening branded shops, they turned the trendy neighborhood into the epicenter of their retail revolution.
Origins, Shu Uemura, Sephora, Face Stockholm, Shiseido’s 5S, MAC, Helena Rubinstein, Make Up For Ever, Aveda, L’Occitane, I Natural and Linda Mason all opened boutiques in the area, transforming it into what some call the “Lipstick District.”
While beauty shops continue to thrive in SoHo, numerous cult beauty companies are following the lead of designers like Eileen Fisher, Tracy Feith and Daryl K by opening their boutiques downtown, but beyond SoHo’s borders in nearby neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, the East Village and NoLIta, the area north of Little Italy.
The European fragrance company Creed opened its first U.S. store on Bond Street in Greenwich Village in August. Demeter, known for its quirky fragrances, opened its first boutique on Friday on Second Avenue in the East Village. (Kiehl’s, which transcends trends, has been in the East Village since 1851.) Fresh, the Boston-based toiletries company, plans to open a 1,350-square-foot space in NoLIta at the end of the month.
In addition, Benefit, the San Francisco-based beauty company acquired this week by LVMH, would like to open a boutique in New York and has NoLIta on its short list of locations.
The reason for the shift, said Faith Hope Consolo, a realtor with a large beauty clientele, has a lot to do with SoHo’s escalating rents and space crunch, generated by vacancy rates of approximately 5 percent.
“I can get stores in NoLIta at $75 to $100 per square foot and in SoHo that number has pushed to $200,” she said.
Money is not the only reason for the move beyond SoHo. Not everyone loves the fact that SoHo has morphed from a gallery district populated by artsy types to an open-air shopping mall swarming with platinum-card-toting tourists.
“I can’t bear going to SoHo on the weekends,” said Chris Gable, co-owner of Demeter. “SoHo is a branding exercise. I don’t want a store just as an advertising vehicle.”
As for Fresh, co-owner Alina Roytberg said SoHo was never under consideration. “It’s a downtown version of Madison Avenue, where we already have a boutique,” she said. “We wanted an area that is more residential in feel.”
But this hardly means SoHo is over.
“The demand is so high from every use group. Fashion, accessories, food — everybody wants to be in SoHo,” Consolo said. “It’s still very special there. There are beautiful buildings, cobblestone streets, great restaurants and galleries. It’s the closest thing we have to Europe.”
As a result, the beauty business in the neighborhood is booming. Origins and Face Stockholm reported that their SoHo boutiques are the top performers among all their U.S. locations. The HR Beauty Gallery, which opened on Spring Street in April as the U.S. base for the American relaunch of the Helena Rubinstein brand, had its best month yet in August. Margaret Sharkey, U.S. manager of Rubinstein, did say that July was a “challenge” because of the unusually hot weather.
Sephora, which choose SoHo for the location of its first U.S. store, exceeded its first-year sales projections and is seeing double-digit increases two months into its second year.
Shiseido’s 5S boutique, however, was somewhat disappointing. According to industry sources, the store, which opened in May on Prince Street, projected first-year retail sales of $1.2 million. The actual result was $1,075,000.
But Shiseido was happy enough with the reaction to the new brand and shop to go ahead with its retail rollout of 5S stores. One opened in San Francisco in July, and a Santa Monica, Calif., location is slated to open on Oct. 28.
Despite the handful of brands snubbing SoHo, certain beauty companies are as eager as ever to open boutiques there because of the neighborhood’s cachet.
The hot makeup artist line Nars has been searching for a perfect SoHo location for some time, as has the English toiletries and cosmetics company Molton Brown.
“I can easily rent a space in NoLIta, but I don’t think that’s the right place for our first store to be,” said Lloyd Newman, president of Molton Brown USA.
The latest beauty brand to successfully stake out territory in SoHo is Perlier, best known for its line of honey bath products.
According to a spokeswoman, the Italian company is close to signing a lease for a location on West Broadway and plans to open the store before the end of the year.
More brands will follow Perlier, predicted Consolo.
“Everybody knows one thing,” she said. “If you want to shop for beauty, you go to SoHo.”