Jonathan Riss loves New York. “I’m crazy about this city,” says the Paris-based Belgian designer of Jay Ahr, and he’s working hard to make the feeling mutual. Bergdorf Goodman introduced Jay Ahr’s easy cocktail dresses to the American public last spring, and, while Riss was pleased to have such a prestigious New York address, he felt “it was important to have a place here to show more than one dress on a rack.” So he opened a private salon at 801 Madison Avenue last month. Done up with crown moldings imported from Versailles, marble furniture and Baccarat crystal, the salon, which Riss believes offers the complete Jay Ahr experience, brings a touch of traditional French grandeur — not to mention the firm’s full ready-to-wear, jewelry and accessories collections — to New York.
Manhattan is more than just a new home to Riss. It has sentimental value. According to Riss, Jay Ahr, launched in 2005 and named for the phonetic spelling of Riss’ initials, was inspired by American style. “In New York, I saw all of these girls wearing dresses all the time,” says Riss. “I said, ‘Let’s do something more dressy for women in Paris, so they can take their jeans and put them somewhere else.’ Just wear a dress, like that line from Diane von Furstenberg, ‘Feel like a woman, wear a dress.’” He started with jersey T-shirt dresses and eventually added eveningwear to the mix. Within a year, Riss, who got into fashion by working in textile factories in the Ukraine and India before privately designing wedding dresses, opened a boutique on Paris’ Rue du 29 Juillet. The Jay Ahr collection, which retails for $1,500 to $6,000 for clothing and up to $8,500 for jewelry, is in more than 40 stores, including Bergdorf Goodman, Hirshleifer’s and Harrods and is also available on Net-a-Porter.com. Of course, Riss considers his Madison Avenue outpost to be the most exclusive venue of all.