Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — Carolina Herrera’s new store has a blue-blooded pedigree that matches the designer’s.
Herrera quietly opened her first freestanding store at 954 Madison Avenue, on the northwest corner of 75th Street, at the end of June. The four-story, 6,900-square-foot landmark building belonged to Hubert de Givenchy, until Herrera bought it last October.
Herrera would not comment on the cost of the building, but real estate sources said the asking price was around $8 million. The designer, and her company president Claudia Thomas, wanted a store on Madison Avenue for years, but held out for the right building and location.
Another key factor had also fallen into place, she said. Yuta Powell, a veteran of fashion retail in New York, was looking for a new project. Powell is president of Beau Monde USA and ran the Givenchy store in this building from 1986 to 1998. The store is a partnership between the designer’s company and Beau Monde, and Powell will run the store and oversee the staff.
“It was such serendipity that Yuta was available and the building was for sale,” said Thomas. “We didn’t want to do one without the other, and it is so hard to find someone who knows how to run a retail business.”
While the location is a bit upwind of what is traditionally considered the heart of Madison Avenue — 57th Street to 72nd Street — Thomas said that designer retailing has been evolving northward for at least a decade.
Thomas and Powell said few structural changes were made to the interior of the new store, other than to install a sweeping white staircase.
The three-level store has 3,600 square feet of selling space. The subdued decor, done in conjunction with Canadian design firm Yabu-Pushelberg, was designed to be “warm and homey,” said the designer, and to sidestep the minimalist wave that’s swept store design.
“I didn’t want another one of those Madison Avenue boxes,” Herrera said, adding that unlike most establishments in the city, dogs are welcome.
“Can you imagine? I wouldn’t go anywhere without my dog,” Herrera said indignantly.
The decor was inspired by French decorative arts of the Twenties, particularly the designer Jean Michel Frank. There is taupe carpet throughout, and many of the fixtures are made from dark or exotic woods like ebony macassar. Decorative touches include cabinets made from mother-of-pearl, taupe leather screens, and chaise lounges upholstered in a shantung Roman stripe. Accessory touches, like silver metal chairs or a translucent mica bowl, were designed by Victor Carranza.
The top floor is the bridal sanctum, which is furnished with couches and chairs. “Women come in to try on their dresses with their friends, their mothers, their grandmothers,” said Powell. To augment the business, Powell and Herrera said they are thinking of having flower designers, or silver or tabletop companies come to do special events.
Right now, bridal represents about 15 percent of Herrera’s business and is going strong: Business doubled last year, according to Thomas.
“But the main thrust of the business is collection,” she said. That is housed on the street level with accessories and the seven fragrances Herrera has launched with her licensee Puig.
Downstairs, a quiet octagonal room furnished with a giant grey velvet pouf will be used for private showings, said Herrera.She’s also thinking about a home line.
While the company wouldn’t comment on volume projections, both Herrera and Thomas emphasized they expect to see profits, and that the store is not just an image booster. Sources said the location could have between $5 million and $10 million in retail sales its first year. Total retail sales for the company are estimated at around $250 million.
Herrera is on an expansion drive. She signed an agreement earlier this year with the Spanish company STL to produce and distribute the CH Carolina Herrera diffusion line in Europe, and to open 40 stores for that line in Europe, the U.S. and Asia over the next several years. The deal is expected to give the designer a much larger international presence, although a fragrance deal with the Barcelona-based beauty company Puig has already made progress there.
Thomas stands her ground against any nearby wholesale accounts — in this case, Saks Fifth Avenue — that might howl that the new store will cut into their business.
“It has been proven that business actually improves when a freestanding store opens in the neighborhood,” she insisted.
“This way, the customers can see my whole message,” added Herrera.

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