JENNE MAAG OPENS FIRST RETAIL LOCATION

Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — For at least 40 years, the tiny 500-square-foot triangle on the corner of Spring and Mott Streets was an airless storeroom being used by the sculptor Louise Nevelson, who owned the building.
That is, until a few months ago, when sportswear designer Jenne Maag signed a lease and started knocking out walls. The store opens for business today.
“We just loved the space,” said Maag, who has had a bridge-priced line under her own name for 19 years. “I loved that the door was catty-corner; I loved that it’s small. I don’t like to waste time shopping — I just don’t have it. We all live such hectic lives. In the Seventies, we wore all kinds of scarves and pins and earrings. Now I just want to get dressed and look sharp. But it has to be fast; I don’t even have shoes that have lace-ups. Everything is a zipper or a pull-on.”
Maag’s sportswear aesthetic is inspired by her love for stretch fabrics, which she said she’s been playing with since buying vintage Bogner ski pants at the flea market decades ago. In 1989, she found Milior, the Italian mill that had been making Bogner’s material. She convinced the owner to start developing fabrics more appropriate for everyday wear and has had stretch in her line ever since.
Of course, other companies have since discovered the joys of stretch. In fact, Maag said that Theory, the stretch-based bridge sportswear line launched by Tahari three years ago, took a big bite out of her sales that year as it expanded aggressively into department store distribution; volume dropped by almost $1 million. She recovered from that hiccup, though, and since then business has grown about 30 percent each year. Wholesale volume this year should total $8.7 million, up from $6.4 million in 1999.
Aside from Saks Fifth Avenue, Maag focuses on specialty store distribution. Wholesale prices range from $100 for a skirt to $475 for a coat.
Once Maag had settled on the Mott Street space, she turned to interior designer Laura Kirar to make it unique. Kirar, who designed the hip restaurant Fressen, steered away from the pale-wood-and-limestone formula found in many SoHo boutiques, choosing more idiosyncratic materials. Those include opaque vanilla polyeurethane for the wall units and a recycled plywood material for the windowseats and floors. There are a few scattered chairs covered in camel leather.
Like many designers, Maag has been thinking about her own store for years. But that doesn’t mean she’s got grandiose ambitions like her former boss at Bloomingdale’s, Mickey Drexler. She wants to keep her wholesale accounts happy.
Still, Maag is not opposed to having more than one store.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “We’ll see how this one does, and we’ll go from there. If I want to grow, I have to decide how much I’m going to go out there.”

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