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NEW YORK — Judith Leiber’s new Madison Avenue flagship may be peppered with crystal details, but whimsical minaudières aren’t the only things offered.

This story first appeared in the October 18, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

While said evening bags established Leiber — who founded the company in 1963 — as an American accessories icon, the house that bears her name aims to become just as well known for its mix of luxurious day bags, shoes, sunglasses, gloves and even fur wraps. Its 3,000-square-foot boutique, which opened at 680 Madison Avenue in a space formerly occupied by Maxim’s de Paris last Thursday, makes that point crystal clear.

“I felt that having a flagship store in New York was absolutely essential for the development of the brand,” said Maggy Siegel, president and chief executive officer of Judith Leiber LLC, adding that she made a boutique here a primary goal when she joined Leiber last year. “I knew exactly where I wanted it to be. The first time I saw this corner location with 10 windows across the street form Barneys, I just had to have it.”

Working with architecture firm Gensler, Leiber executives developed a retail concept that offers clients the entire world of Leiber, from custom-order alligator handbags to a crystal bar set that includes an entirely beaded ice bucket and martini shaker.

“It will help us introduce the Leiber brand to a whole new audience, as well as continue delighting the customer base that we have already built,” Siegel said.

This isn’t Leiber’s first Manhattan store. The company already operates a 520-square-foot unit at 987 Madison Avenue, but its lease expires next year. In addition to New York, there are four other Leiber boutiques worldwide: Atlanta; Las Vegas; Costa Mesa, Calif., and London.

The Manhattan flagship kicks off an ambitious growth strategy that Siegel has worked on since joining the company from Chanel USA, where she was in charge of fine jewelry. Leiber, a division of the Leiber Group, celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, and Siegel has said she hopes to grow the accessories house to at least $50 million in a few years.

The store opening comes at a time of expansion at Leiber. Siegel said she is pursuing licensing opportunities in fine jewelry, watches and fragrance. In addition, the firm unveiled plans earlier this year to push into other worldwide markets and partnered with the Falic Group, planning to expand into Central and South America. A store is expected to open in Panama next month. The company also added doors in South Korea and Japan.

“I would say Asia presents by far the largest opportunity, and we are one of the few luxury brands that hasn’t really had a strong presence there,” Siegel said.

There are up to 10 U.S. markets in which Siegel envisions Leiber boutiques. While she declined to disclose sales projections for the New York boutique, she noted, “The rent on Madison Avenue is over $1 million a year, so we need to do multiples of that.”

The Madison Avenue store draws from the founding designer’s affection for high-quality details. Colorful crystals play a significant role in the interior: They fill out the front door handles and adorn a large mirror in the entrance area, and even the bathroom fixtures come replete with crystals.

That said, Siegel stressed the flagship was designed to make the brand seem more accessible and less museum-like. Where once the assortment was locked away behind glass, much of the merchandise mix is now displayed openly. “That’s a big change for Leiber,” she said. “We want customers to be able to touch it, see it, try it on.”

Frank Zamborelli, creative director, added the aim was to make the flagship feel like an upscale Manhattan home, featuring Venetian plaster, exotic woods in dark and light tones and rich wool carpeting. The space is filled with modern furniture referencing the Art Deco era. “It’s a space designed to make you want to walk in and spend some time there,” he said.

The Madison Avenue flagship will serve as the launchpad for an Astor collection, a special-order, exotic skin group of handbags inspired by the boutique’s building, which was once owned by John Jacob Astor. Clients can personalize the silver or vermeil buckle hardware with their initials or pick an ombré crystal or leather inlay closure. The Astor collection is priced from $1,595 to $7,595.

But the new digs also offer eyewear, giftware and shoes. There is even a capsule fur collection ranging from chinchilla-cuffed gloves for less than $1,000 to a sable poncho for about $20,000.

Typically, price points at the flagship range from $95 for pig or frog sterling-silver cuff links to $100,000 for bags covered in semiprecious and precious stones. On average, though, prices range from $1,000 to $5,000, with shoes from $300 to $800.

The boutique was kicked off with a weeklong silent auction of 10 one-of-a-kind bags. The company asked prominent artists and photographers to submit work, which it then translated into minaudières. The participating artists were Ross Bleckner, David Salle, Hunt Slonem, Donald Baechler, Karin Davie, Arthur Elgort, Eric Fischl, Steven Klein, Pat Steir and Philip Taaffe. Each piece carries an opening bid of $5,000, and proceeds go to AIDS Community Research Initiative of America.

“We wanted to take the opportunity of the new store and the evolution of the brand in general and make a connection between the two, and we thought, ‘Why not do it in a philanthropic way?’” Zamborelli said.

The opening coincides with the launch of a punchy advertising campaign developed with agency Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners. The campaign broke in The New York Times and on taxi tops and phone kiosks earlier this month, and will be in November issues of Harper’s Bazaar, In Style, Town & Country, Vanity Fair, Vogue and W (Vogue, W, Vanity Fair and In Style, like WWD, are owned by Advance Publications Inc.). Titled “Lunch at the Guggenheim,” it depicts a group of socialites fully equipped in Leiber wares doing just that. Among the participants are Cristina Cuomo, Zani Gugelmann, Muffie Potter Aston, Pamela Gross, Susan Fales-Hill and Rena Sindi.

“We worked with a lot of friends of the brand,” said Zamborelli. “It represents a lifestyle with a little bit of the focus on the expanding world and expanding use of Leiber, specifically in the day. That’s why it’s lunch at the Guggenheim.”

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