NEW YORK — Watch out Wooster Street — there’s a new kid on the block.
“It’s so wild. I can’t believe that less than two years ago we were working from home, not knowing what was going on in the world, and now we have a huge store,” he said over the phone from the site, mid-construction at the multilevel space. “The powder pink carpet goes down on Wednesday,” he exclaimed.
Although still a relatively young label (his namesake brand was founded after he graduated from Central Saint Martens and the London College of Fashion in 2016), Cowan has had his sights set on brick-and-mortar for some time; he dreamed of the idea during his teenage years. The outbreak of COVID-19 pushed timelines, but after seeing his brand, team and sales multiply coming out of the pandemic, Cowan thought, “Let’s capitalize on this moment.”
“I really felt the brand was lacking that point of contact with our consumer, where they can really see and understand who our brand and world is outside of fashion week,” he explained — his latest fantastically fun fall collection fashion fete soared to new heights on the 102nd floor of One World Observatory. “I do think there’s this great return to buying fabulous things in store. People want to dress up, they want to have fun, but when you’re buying something special, you want to be able to come in and try it on.”
Cowan viewed myriad New York City locations, noting it was important the space had a soul, before signing the lease two months ago.
“While direct-to-consumer online is lovely, it’s a bit soulless — no matter how cute your website is. So for me, this really had to have the personality of the brand that shines through.”
Upon viewing the empty, bilevel 5,000-square-foot retail space within 76 Wooster Street, Cowan found his fit — describing the space as “club-like in terms of quirky features, and very SoHo, New York — not some sterile box. I feel so honored to be in company with Moschino, Celine and Gucci — it’s crazy to see my name there now.”
The creative energy Cowan felt within the storied building only deepened upon learning its history. The former “three-story converted stable” served as Grace Jones’ mid-1980s restaurant La Vie en Rose, as well as an art space frequented by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel, also hosting Yoko Ono’s “Gimme Some Truth, The Arkwork of John Lennon” exhibition in October 2011 before becoming the Soho Arts Club.
“I’m trying to pay homage to the club and queer history of this building, and also to us as well while taking it to an elevated point of it being our first brick-and-mortar to show we’re becoming a more serious force within ready-to-wear,” Cowan said, noting his glam, nightlife-inspired brand DNA was also a direct influence on the store design. “It’s about converting our brand DNA of being celebratory and fun, but also keeping it chic and luxury, not over the top to camp — but an elevated take to campy. It has powder pink floors, a giant floating square installation that spans two floors with pampas grass and mannequins wearing the looks; to give a nod to the space and its club history there’s a go-go dancing booth that’s fully carpeted.”
The now powder-pink and white outfitted space — with first floor exterior painted to match — “is a true home to Christian Cowan.” The location will not only host Cowan’s bombastic, shimmering, optimistic fashions (including runway collections and his new Essentials line, as well as dog sweaters, accessories and upcoming collaborative projects) but also the brand’s relocated atelier and offices (formerly located in the Lower East Side).
The designer added that the retail opening “sets the tone for additional announcements, celebrating the expansion of the Christian Cowan brand, to be made later this year.”
“You can actually see past the atelier when you’re shopping. I’m excited to be able to jump out, see the customer, ask what they’re looking for in their garments, help them pick what they want. As we expand as more of a rtw brand that’s stocked elsewhere and become more developed, it’s fun to be able to have that direct line to those buying it,” Cowan said, adding, “I will be hosting private appointments where I help design people’s wedding gowns and more. It’s a salon in terms that the atelier is downstairs, customers can come down and try out fabrics. I want it to be more than a soulless retail point of sale, and more of an intuitive experience with the design house.”
Going beyond the traditional retail environment, Cowan partnered with Square and Smashbox Cosmetics to bring the space to life. The importance of organic integrations was noted as of utmost importance for Cowan.
“The last two years have been challenging for retailers of all types and sizes. As businesses begin to rebuild and look ahead to the future, we’re working to build solutions that can power their growth,” said Roshan Jhunja, head of retail at Square, who’s retail point-of-sale will power the store. “We’re honored to support innovative sellers like Christian Cowan. Ultimately our goal is to help business owners like him spend less time on the back-end and more doing what they love — designing, creating and connecting with customers.”
A mutual friendship and symbiotic energy between Cowan and Smashbox Cosmetics kicked off their partnership last year — the beauty company sponsored the designer’s spring 2022 and fall 2022 runway shows. When Cowan approached Smashbox Cosmetics with the retail idea and location a few months ago, the company’s global brand president Glenn Evans told WWD, it was a “no brainer.”
The companies have “been working fast-and-furiously together to bring it to life ever since,” Evans said, adding, “We’re studio-born brands telling similar stories. Smashbox is studio-tested and lifestyle approved; Christian Cowan merges runway and real life.”
“I think Christian Cowan rtw and makeup are a match made in heaven. We’re super, super-expressive and fun, everyone can be themselves so makeup was the natural trajectory for us,” Cowan said. “What I love about Smashbox so much is not only are they amazing makeup that can last for a party — which I’m all here for — but also they have this photo studio DNA, this creator collaborative effort DNA. They’re coming in on the space and have scheduled events together like makeup masterclasses.”
“It’s been a collaboration between us — everyone has been involved in every detail putting it together, a real working partnership. The two teams have worked together on the designs — everything from the window treatments to the floor plans and how Smashbox will appear in the space. We wanted to make sure our studio heritage came through and we could represent the brand in a way that not only shows where we came from but how it’s connected to our brand today and are represented in the marketplace,” Evans echoed, adding that the brick and mortar partnership is the first of its kind for the brand.
Both floors of the retail space feature immersive, industry-grade Smashbox Cosmetics beauty stations and product portals, with Smashbox Pro Artists on hand to offer cosmetic consultations. Not only will customers be able to test the beauty brand’s products (including core collections and cult-favorites, like the Silkscreen Primers, Halo Tinted Mositurizer, Under Eye Brightening Corrector, Smashbox x Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter, new product launches and more), but also purchase on-site with free, next-day shipping through smashbox.com. In addition, Smashbox Cosmetics will offer a selection of services ranging from VIP events to consumer-facing experiences and activations.
“I want it to be the experience where you come buy a fabulous gown or shirt — whatever it is — and you’re wondering what the look should be — there will be professional makeup artists waiting. If you have an event you can come in, get dressed, get your makeup done and leave. This is our one-stop shop for a good time,” Cowan said.
Store hours run Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In addition, the designer is donating 50 percent of all sales proceeds from the store’s grand opening week to Care.org.
“I think it’s weird to open a luxury store, in a luxury part of town and pretend like nothing’s going on in the world — there’s a serious war happening elsewhere,” Cowan explained. “I have Ukrainian friends I’ve grown up with and in New York — I hear their accounts, it’s completely heartbreaking. Where I’m not a huge conglomerate, what we can do is offer a large chunk of our proceeds, for the first week at least. I don’t want that to be the end of it, I want to do more in the coming months but that is the starting point. I think any brand, no matter how large or small, should always do something.”