SPACE AND THE CITY

Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — For fashion executives, the only thing sexier than a 100 percent sell-through is a nice chunk of real estate in a red-hot neighborhood. By that definition, real-estate executives Joel Isaacs and Caroline Banker could be rated R.
Isaacs and Banker have been handling the fragile egos and outrageous demands of fashion firms for most of their careers. While the two have been friends since Philips Exeter summer school 23 years ago, they had been working separately until recently. The two have started up a new business under the wing of real-estate giant Douglas Elliman, called the Retail & Office Group.
The point of the business, he said, is to pool their fashion-community experience and client list to make a design-focused real-estate company.
Banker began working on SoHo in the late Eighties, signing leases for clients including home store Portico, Shiseido’s 5S store, Aveda and the footwear chain Tootsi Plohound.
“I have relationships with landlords that I’ve cultivated for 10 years,” she said.
“I think Caroline has rented all of SoHo,” said Larry Everston, who owns Tootsi Plohound. “She’s got a great personality, especially for dealing with fashion people. She knows when to be firm, and when to coddle.”
Isaacs had been running his own company since 1991. A natty dresser, Isaacs said his natural inclinations led him to start sniffing around style mavens.
“I canvassed all the tenants in 714 Fifth Avenue, including Hugo Boss, and I really liked the people I was dealing with,” he said. Isaacs has gotten some of his best clients by cold-calling, including Malo, Tod’s and Prada.
Isaacs has done 20 transactions with the Prada Group, from its first offices at 50 West 57th Street to its new U.S. headquarters in a former piano factory on West 51st Street to the mega-store now under construction in SoHo. He has put Tod’s in its Madison Avenue store and its Chicago location and has worked with Helmut Lang and Tse, as well.
“There are several nice things about Joel,” said Claudio Castiglione, chief executive officer for Diego Della Valle here. “He’s in love with all things Italian, so it’s easy to work with him. He has impeccable taste and he comprehends our brand.”
But with real estate on fire, Banker and Isaacs are on call more than most ER doctors, and they’ve got the war stories to prove it. Banker held Jeffrey Kalinsky’s hand through finding and signing his meatpacking district store last year.
“He wanted a lot of space, and he was pretty open to any location in the city,” recalled Banker. Right after Christmas, I found a space on Madison Square Park that I thought was a slam-dunk. But first we stopped to look at the space on 14th Street, and Jeffrey turned to me and said, ‘Cancel all the other appointments.”‘
It sounded like a happy ending, but the lease negotiations went until 4 a.m.
“I was not going to leave the table until we had a signed letter of intent,” Banker emphasized.
“Oh, that’s typical,” added Isaacs. “I did Prada Sport on a Sunday morning by phone from Los Angeles.”