MEET THREE RETAILERS WHO ARE WEATHERING THE DOWNTURN JUST FINE IN FLORIDA’S HOTTEST FASHION ZONE.
Byline: Rebecca Kleinman / Merri Grace McLeroy
Color Her Cool
Amid South Beach’s touristy T-shirt shops and ultra-cheesy clubwear stores blaring trance music, Chroma offers a slice of sophistication for fashionistas in search of the same hot designers found in New York and Los Angeles. Mint, Jean Yu, Liz Collins, Souchi, Language and People Used to Dream About the Future are just some of the labels that read like a who’s who guide to emerging designers.
“My inspiration for the store is a mush of Barneys Co-op, Hedra Prue and Kirna Zabete, but with a Florida feel,” said owner Bonnie Engelstein, who moved back to her native state after working for many years in New York at a bevy of manufacturers and retailers, including Geoffrey Beene Sportswear, Pringle Cashmere and Bergdorf Goodman.
Buying for a Florida location poses entirely different challenges than for hipster havens like New York or Los Angeles. The biggest difference, according to Engelstein, is that Floridians invest heavily in spring, not fall wardrobes.
“Women are more likely to spend a lot of money on a great pair of strappy sandals instead of boots, or a top instead of a sweater,” she said.
And with Miami’s notoriously intense humidity, fashionable materials like leather are out of the question. Engelstein said that even Los Angeles-based designers can’t comprehend this factor.
“It’s hard when everyone’s showing leather or tweed. I wish designers were more conscious of warmer climates, especially since so many people with money live here,” she said.
Yet Engelstein tries to work a few forbidden fabrics into the mix, just in smaller quantities: a smattering of tweedy skirts (retailing for $400) by Jane Mayle, or a pair of lightweight pants with a leather band ($325) by Alvin Valley. “It’s ideal to have that little bit of leather to make the item hip and sexy, but that doesn’t touch the body in places that would be hot and uncomfortable,” she said.
Overall, prices range from $40 for a sheer cotton tank by Joie to $800 for a black lace dress by Jane Mayle.
Engelstein closely monitors how her trends will be accepted by her clientele, a mix of tourists, the majority of which are from New York, and fashionable locals. For example, she predicts Barbara Bui’s pants are too high-waisted for her clientele this spring, but will be more accepted come fall.
In the meantime, shoppers can get started on a new denim source, Joie, and accessories including Beth Frank belts, Temma Dahan leather handbags and Anika jewelry, made from antique beads by a Manhattan designer.
Engelstein prefers her store’s location in Lincoln Road, a pedestrian mall with a snappy mix of shops and cafes, to nearby Eighth Street or Collins Avenue, which she believes, cater more to mall shoppers and tourists. “Lincoln Road has become more like an old-fashioned downtown and community core. I wanted the opportunity for people to stop in to say hello, rather than being thought of as just a shopping destination,” she said.
Open since last May, the independently owned, 1,200-square-foot store also represents a minority at the outdoor pedestrian mall. In the past few years, its mom-and-pop establishments have given way to national tenants like Gap and Banana Republic.
“I knew I was playing with the big boys when I came in,” said Engelstein, who, chains notwithstanding, is on a quest to open more Chromas.
AD From A To Z
Bucking convention and breaking marketing rules, Spanish designer Adolfo Dominguez opened his 3,000-square-foot U.S. boutique in August — sans advertising, sans the obligatory charity fashion show and just as world events took a marked turn for the worse.
Yet this hopelessly optimistic, business-savvy designer was banking on his success in markets across Europe and in the Far East. Dominguez, a pioneer in the Spanish textile industry, is known for innovative designs and upscale boutiques.
With 142 company-owned stores, the AD brand is in over 164 markets throughout the world, including France, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg, China, Japan, Mexico and Argentina. Sales exceeded $81 million in U.S. dollars in 2001.
His growth strategy is aimed at maintaining market share in the upper-middle segment, with retail prices from $40 for T-shirts up to $500 for an evening dress. Dominguez has also received The Golden Needle (La Aguja d’Oro), one of Spain’s most prestigious fashion awards. Other recipients have included Jean Paul Gaultier, Tom Ford, Narciso Rodriguez, Giorgio Armani and Manolo Blahnik.
Every AD store is designed with the same fixtures, lighting and displays. Clean and tastefully modern, fixtures are of brushed aluminum and mahogany, and recessed white cubicles display featured products.
Dominguez selected Miami, rather than New York or Los Angeles, to launch AD to the U.S. “I already have so many customers in Central and South America,” he said. “They know me and travel a great deal to Miami.” Word of mouth, he predicts, will generate Latin American business, and his South Beach location will bring in tourists.
At least that was the plan before Sept. 11, after which the tourists all but disappeared. “But,” said Susana Varsky, manager of the South Beach store, “tourism has slowly come back. We are happy with sales in Miami, even though it has been slower than expected.” Nonetheless, Dominguez said the store should approach $1 million in sales by yearend. The designer also has a comprehensive Web site, adolfo-dominguez.com, which e-tails only in Spain.
Clothing and accessories, under the AD brand, are all designed in Spain. His principally day-into-evening styles are clean, classic, but with a fashiony edge: Think a more sophisticated version of Club Monaco, with luxurious fabrics. A silk geometric print blouse with French cuffs, for example, retails at $130; a silk knit shirt for $106, and a black wool blend, single button suit, for $380.
The AD brand now includes a line of perfumes called “Agua Fresca,” “Agua Fresca de Rosa” and “Vetiver” and as well as licensed, hats, sunglasses and cosmetics. Dominguez expects to do business in Miami the same way he’s built business abroad: slowly and steadily. “You have to build slowly, select your locations skillfully, present a line your customer desires, provide excellent service and be patient,” he said.