SOHO: U.S. ENTRY FOR FOREIGN DESIGNERS

Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — For many foreign design houses, SoHo has become a gateway to the American customer.
Atsuro Tayama, a Japanese designer, and D&G, a lower-priced line from Dolce & Gabbana, opened stores in September. Austrian designer Helmut Lang has a store under construction on Greene Street. Tristan & America, which is based in Toronto, signed a lease at 560 Broadway. Zara, a large Spanish retailer, is reportedly negotiating to take over the Williams-Sonoma space at 580 Broadway, and Shu Umera, based in Japan, will open a unit at 121 Greene Street.
And just last week, Costume National, based in Milan, and Rugby North America, of Montreal, weighed in with new stores.
Costume National opened Sunday in a 2,000-square-foot space at 108 Wooster Street, between Prince and Spring Streets, on Sunday. The store — Costume’s first in the U.S. — is expected to do $1.5 million in sales in its first year, according to Ennio Capasa, designer and founder of the Italian firm.
On Sunday, traffic was heavy, even though the company did not advertise the opening, said Alan Firestone, the company’s acting general manager. Coats, jackets and pants with the narrow and sleek silhouettes that Capasa showed on the runway were among the top sellers, along with sheer and special evening pieces and shoes for women and men.
Capasa’s sexy, simple, well-tailored designs have found a receptive audience among the Hollywood crowd. According to a company spokeswoman, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Uma Thurman and Meg Ryan wear the clothes.
“I’m really excited about opening the store for many reasons,” Capasa said. “At the moment, the American market is one of the most dynamic and interesting markets for a designer. A few years ago, the American market was very conservative and very flat. Today, the American buyers are buying the most special and most interesting things.”
The store is striking for its lack of color. Most surfaces are black, including the floor, which is poured epoxy resin that shimmers like water. Walls are black; furniture and fixtures are lacquered black.
Overhead lighting is a series of white boxes that contrast against the black ceiling. A display wall in the back of the store has backlighting, and a 21-foot table is lit from within. “The whole idea of the lighting is to make the clothes look like they’re floating in space,” Firestone said.
Rather than making the space look smaller, the black surfaces reflect light, giving depth and dimension. While the inside of the store may be unorthodox, the landmarked facade remains true to SoHo’s industrial history. It is painted an unremarkable shade of gray.
Around the corner, Rugby, a Canadian firm that specializes in nylon and leather bags and jackets in casual styles, opened a 2,500-square-foot unit at 115 Mercer Street between Prince and Spring Streets on Oct. 2.
Rugby wholesales parts of its line to Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Fred Segal, among other specialty stores. The business began with sport bags. But according to Steven Cook, president of international business, “As seasons came and went, we started adding jackets and apparel. We built the business very slowly. It is very product-driven.”
Cook projected first-year volume for the store at $1.5 million to $2 million, depending on whether business is driven by handbags or apparel. The lower-priced nylon bags average $140, while bags made of aniline leather, requiring a process that polishes calfskin to a very high gloss, sell for $240 to $420.
“You can put our leather jackets in the dryer for three minutes, and [they] take on the shape of your body,” Cook said.
Rugby makes fitted blazers in aniline leather for $700, three-quarter-length aniline coats for $900, nylon and aniline safari jackets for $400, and Eisenhower-style jackets for $500. All styles are also available in suede or flat calfskin.
The company also sells nylon blazers, pants and skirts for women, cotton broadcloth shirting and coordinated Lycra knitwear.
Rugby operates stores in Dusseldorf and Montreal and recently signed a distribution agreement with Premiere Marque in London to open a Rugby flagship.
The company is also planning to open a freestanding store and wholesale its collection in Japan through Glacier Management. Cook said Rugby will open stores in Toronto and Vancouver within two years.
The SoHo space, formerly occupied by the Archetype Gallery, had tin ceilings, crown moldings and elaborate trim. Rugby removed the Victorian trappings and replaced them with its own sleek fixtures, which is based on natural Canadian woods.
Natural linen chairs manufactured by the company are placed in cozy groupings throughout the store. The chairs, which can be slipcovered in aniline leather, are for sale.

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