With 44 years in business over two generations, Newport Beach retail institution A’maree’s has long been a port of call for the yachting set, who can pull up to the store’s harbor-side boat slip for a California-casual curated fashion fix of Lisa Marie Fernandez swimsuits, crisp white Alaïa shirts, floaty Kilometre Paris tunic dresses, Daniela Villegas baubles, Greenpacha sun hats and more.
But not even this seaside swell of affluence is safe from the pandemic’s retail storm, which has resulted in luxury store bankruptcies (Neiman Marcus), shutterings (Jeffrey) and staff reductions (Forty Five Ten), not to mention the sluggish return to brick-and-mortar stores in June and July, amidst soaring e-commerce sales.
“Usually, our August would be the Saudis visiting. We’re really missing Sarah Al-Saud,” said A’maree’s co-owner Dawn Klohs of this year’s dearth of luxury tourists to California.
So on Saturday, A’maree’s is charting new territory with the launch of its first e-commerce site, which the shop owners hope has the same second (or third or fourth) home charm as their 9,664 square-foot physical space reminiscent of Peggy Guggenheim’s Palazzo comes to Orange County.
“After 44 years, we need to be able to grow our business because we’re survivors…In the next two years we will see such fallout and we’re dinosaurs in this industry, there is no store like this,” said Klohs, who runs the store with sisters Denise Schaefer, Apryl Schaefer, and 81-year-old family matriarch Nancy Brown, who founded A’maree’s in 1976.
“We were with Farfetch, and grew our business to over $3 million a year with them, but that was at the beginning, and now they go directly to the suppliers, and have cut out the whole idea of each store curating their own visual storefront,” said Klohs. “But what Farfetch did do was validate we have a customer who is global.”
It’s a big step for the self-financed store built on personal relationships with both designers and customers, who stop in to shop, put their feet up on the outdoor patio and watch the boats, including A’maree’s’ own.
Like most retail tenants, they had to negotiate with their landlord over rent this spring. The waterfront building has a new owner, Mx3 Ventures, in the process of developing an 8-acre, mixed-use harbor front property on either side, but A’maree’s “can stay as long as they would like to stay,” said the real estate investment firm’s chief executive officer Manouch Moshayedi.
Indeed, the modernist 1961 building (designed by Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey, the architects of Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum) with arched bay view windows has become synonymous with the store, which relocated there 12 years ago. It’s also the logo for its new web site, created with the help of consultant John Targon, late of Marc Jacobs and Baja East, and his firm BFD Media.
In addition to branding the store, the site is designed to be a full-circle fashion and lifestyle experience, showcasing a push into contemporary and vintage home furnishings through a collaboration with Milan-based Nilufar Gallery, whose owner Nina Yashar is a fan of the sisters’ “eclectic and elegant style.”
It will feature weekly lifestyle programming with anti-aging specialist David Finkel and other gurus who host events at the store, where face masks are encouraged but not required. “We want people to feel comfortable,” said Klohs.
Items to buy online range from $120 bronze home accessories from Ston by Latondra, to a $43,500 pair of 1957 Franco Albini armchairs. Men’s and women’s clothing and accessories start at $195 for a Diane Cotton necklace, with a special focus on a California edit of designers and artists the store has collaborated with over the years, including Dosa, Peter Cohen, Second/Layer, GRP1, Salt Optics and Nick Fouquet.
Also on offer, custom Hart Concrete ping-pong tables like the one in the shop that has seen matches between the owners and Daft Punk, pro-golfer Rickie Fowler and other famous shoppers. A special section of the site called The Vault will feature archival fashion pieces, such as a Marni fur coat from 2007, a Lanvin bridal gown from 2010, a John Galliano kimono from 2005, scarves and jewelry from Cartier and Bvglari.
In the store, the last few months have been challenging. Under California’s Safer at Home order, they had to close in March, although they continued to do private appointments and ship merchandise to clients. After reopening in June, they saw a 12 percent increase in year-over-year sales for the month, thanks to pent-up demand, and brides looking for options for more casual weddings, they said.
“For some reason this season, we went even more casual, and that’s what people want — comfy, casual, chic clothes, and things not so available on sale online,” said Klohs. “We don’t want Valentino now…Our customers are buying natural fibers, flat shoes, loose and easy.”
The sisters’ last buying trip to Paris was in March, and they don’t know when they’ll return. For pre-collection, they bought via Zoom. “We are very tactile, so it’s hard for us, and some brands are better at doing Zoom than others,” said Klohs. “Our buy was less, but brands are so excited to have anything. There is not one stipulation, and no such thing as a minimum anymore,” added Denise Schaefer.
The Row is the store’s number-one seller, and they are concerned about the brand’s reported financial troubles. While they still buy Alaïa and Celine (crisp white shirts, Ts and jeans, mostly), Gabriela Hearst, Dries Van Noten and Jil Sander, before the pandemic, they had already started to veer away from big commercial names (several of which are on sale in a corner, unusual for the boutique, which also has a sale shop on Balboa Island). “Over the years, we have had every luxury brand except Chanel and Vuitton but we’ve let go of almost all of them because we need to be out of that box. That’s how we can survive,” said Klohs.
Instead, they are bringing the business back to more niche labels such as Stouls for washable suede tunics and pants, Arts and Sciences for casual basics and Transit for men’s linen pants, as well as more exclusive product, which they said they have not had to put on sale.
Exhibit A, the store’s latest collaboration with Kilometre Paris on beach tents, tea towels, dresses and purses with the A’maree’s building, sun-and-surf embroideries. “Designers dream to be in Newport, and when they are they are family,” said Kilometre Paris founder Alexandra Senes. “When they buy you, they continue to support, they give you a corner and a trunk show, they play the game, and give time for customers to get to know you. I came twice for trunk shows, you play ping-pong and have vodka and tea, you spend a whole afternoon and $5,000 or $10,000 or $100,000 at the end. They take care of their customers the same way they take care of their designers. And they trust them, even to redecorate their houses.”
“Most of our clients want to be serviced,” said Schaefer, adding that they are still trying to figure out how to translate that personal, family touch online. “Knowing where things are from, who is making them, people want transparency,” said Targon. “It’s been hidden for so long and now the luxury business has been exposed,” added Klohs.
A’maree’s continues to be bullish on small California brands, many of whom are now bringing their collections directly to Newport for sales appointments.
L.A. designer Peter Cohen is practically an in-house couturier, whipping up hammered silk blouses and dresses that work “on a rock star’s wife or a 90-year-old,” said Klohs.
Christina Kim’s Dosa is the go-to store for the current house dress trend. “She was green before green existed, just like Dusan and Luisa Cevese,” Klohs added.
“There’s nothing like visiting the store for sure, but if anyone can make the transition online, they can,” said Kim. “It’s in their DNA.”