LOS ANGELES — Marc Jacobs wants to corner the Melrose market.

Marc Jacobs International LLP finalized leases for four separate buildings here, two on Melrose Avenue and two on the tributary Melrose Place, for a Marc Jacobs collection store, a Marc by Marc Jacobs store, a VIP studio and a management office. The stores are scheduled to open in October.

This story first appeared in the April 12, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The largest building, a 3,500-square-foot ivy-covered space at 8400 Melrose Place occupying a corner where the two streets converge, is expected to house men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections, shoe collections, accessories collections and home. Catercorner will be a 1,500-square-foot VIP studio devoted to a celebrity clientele and a West Coast press office at 8409 Melrose Place. Across the street on Melrose Avenue, Marc by Marc Jacobs has taken over two leases at 8410 and 8406 for a 2,500-square-foot store and a 1,500-square-foot building for a combined management office, alterations and stock facility, respectively.

This is Marc Jacobs’ second retail foray into California. The Paris-based designer opened a store on Union Square in San Francisco four years ago. With 40 stores worldwide between Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs and combined sales reaching $300 million, the lines backed by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton are already available here through several distribution points at department and specialty stores. Both labels occupy prime exposure on Melrose’s original ivy-covered destination, Fred Segal Melrose, located only steps from the soon-to-be-opened stores.

Having a store in Los Angeles was always on the designer’s mind, said Robert Duffy, Marc Jacobs president, who, along with New York architect Stephan Jaklitsch and French designer Christian Liaigre, is currently ironing out the design concepts of both stores.

“Marc has always had a love affair with L.A.,” he said. “The lifestyle is so different [from New York]. I get psyched every time I’m there.”

The Marc by Marc Jacobs store will be the largest for the secondary label to date, expected to carry the broadest array of products, including a new home collection, said Duffy. The company already has introduced ancillary products like stickers, surfboards and skateboards, all of which had a huge run during the holiday 2003 season. There also will be other products designed exclusively for the Los Angeles store, but Duffy declined to elaborate.

Both stores will have no trouble matching the street’s average of annual sales of $500 a square foot, according to real estate sources, and probably more. Sources said $800 a square foot, or $2.8 million for the larger store, and $2 million for the smaller, is not an unreasonable goal for first-year sales. Duffy would not confirm the projections.

No doubt, the Hollywood connection was among the main attractions for opening stores here. VIP areas set up for entertainment tungstens have become de rigueur for designers with virtually every store on Rodeo Drive, including Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Tod’s and Valentino, spending big bucks catering to their privacy needs.

Jacobs’ friend, Sofia Coppola, and clients Kirsten Dunst and Winona Ryder may be only the beginning. Robert Rich, who currently handles celebrity dressing as the publicity director and store manager of the Marc Jacobs store on Mercer Street in New York, will hop between coasts to oversee the VIP studio, said Duffy.

“We have so many customers out there that we started doing trunk shows at the Beverly Hills Hotel,” said Duffy. “It was just way overdue. It makes it easier just to deal with everybody.”

Meanwhile, much like Jacobs paved the way on the more residential Bleecker Street in New York for Ralph Lauren and others, the designer has chosen a burgeoning area here that’s quickly becoming the chicest retail spot in the city. The two-block, tree-lined Melrose Place, historically known for its high-cachet antique stores and restaurants, has begun to attract boutiques such as RetroSpecs, women’s clothier Tracy Feith and Italian leather-maker Henry Beguelin.

“I fell in love with the street,” said Duffy. “I was out there with Marc years ago. It’s so charming and I love that in L.A., you can get a little flavor of a walking street. I wanted to duplicate what I did on Bleecker Street with my string of shops.”

Jacobs and Duffy have been eager to expand the reach of their brands, which has led to some well-documented feuding over funding with LVMH. While this would appear to signal that the parent is finally coming across with a bigger allowance, the plans to develop in Southern California had been in place for some time.

More designers are likely to follow. Italian firm Marni is said to be close to finalizing a lease on the western end of the street near La Cienega Boulevard, while Tracy Feith is considering a men’s and children’s store there, according to sources. Helmet Lang also was rumored to be interested in the area.

“The first retailers nestled around [Sally Hershberger at John Frieda’s],” said Stan Nelson, a broker with real estate firm Hilton & Hyland who handled one of the Marc Jacobs deals, referring to the heavily trafficked three-year-old celebrity hair salon with Meg Ryan among its high-profile clients. “Now, I get calls every day from [clothing and shoe companies] in Europe or New York,” he said.

Cameron Silver, owner of vintage designer shop Decades and co-owner of Decadestwo a few blocks away, applauded the stores’ arrival. “It’s very smart business of Marc Jacobs to open in a neighborhood as opposed to Rodeo Drive or Montana Avenue [in Santa Monica]. He is a commercially successful designer that has a strong independent spirit and that’s what the customer here is all about.”

A Halloween costume party is said to be among the opening plans, but Duffy said no decisions have yet been made.

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