NEW YORK — Rosa Cha elevates the swimsuit from the familiar to the unexpected with strategically positioned cutouts, jewel-like necklaces on tops, embroidery with ropes and shells and elaborate patchworks of fabrics. It seems only fitting, then, that Rosa Cha’s first U.S. store, a 1,400-square-foot boutique at 460 West Broadway in SoHo, is unusual. The store, slated to open later this week, is projected to do $750,000 in first-year sales.
Swimsuits are showcased within large gilt picture frames, as if they were works of art. Frames are suspended in the windows and the store’s ceiling is lined with gilt frame-shaped moldings that form a grid that is repeated on the top third of the walls.
“The idea was to show the swimsuits and clothes like an art gallery,” said Rosa Cha designer Amir Slama, who has based past collections on Surrealism, and a Brazil-themed party staged in the 1500s in Rouen, France, for Henry II and Catherine de Medici. “I didn’t want the store to be a typical white box. The architect took his inspiration from the Baroque Brazilian church. We have many churches made completely with gold.”
The gilt of the frames contrasts with the store’s walls and floor, which are covered with ebony-stained white oak. A metal curtain at the back of the store partially obscures two circular dressing rooms outfitted with caramel-colored tufted leather sofas. Movable cabinets, topped with gold wire mesh and looking like luxury chicken coops, line one wall of the store. With handles on either side and wheels, they could also be mistaken for a gussied-up version of the coffee carts seen around Manhattan. Swimsuits will hang on a rod in the cabinets. The open drawers of a long archival table with sand on top will also be used to display swimwear.
Rosa Cha, which does $20 million in sales worldwide, operates 22 stores in Brazil, plus units in Lisbon and Istanbul. Slama plans to open another store in Manhattan. He also wants to distribute Rosa Cha to two or three high-end department and/or large specialty stores.
“We want to open stores in Los Angeles and Miami,” said Edson Paes, president of Cotia USA Ltd., the American arm of a Brazilian trading company involved in wholesale fashion distribution. Cotia USA and Rosa Cha formed a joint-venture partnership for the SoHo store. Cotia in Brazil has revenues of $1 billion and helps luxury brands enter the Brazilian market. Slama met Cotia through Brazilian textile group Marisol, which helped Rosa Cha with production and logistics when the swimwear firm expanded.
“The next big step for Rosa Cha is moving into accessories, handbags, shoes and sandals oriented to the beach,” Paes said. “We have a special edition joint venture with Havianas for spring-summer ’09.”
Slama, who was born in Israel, designs ready-to-wear, which is sold in Brazil. “We have no intention of bringing it to the U.S. any time soon,” said Paes. “The desire for swimwear is so big and Rosa Cha’s product is so unique. Rosa Cha is going to catch the eyes of consumers.” Paes is hoping Rosa Cha’s runway show at the Bryant Park tents on Sept. 6 during New York Fashion Week catches consumers’ attention when it’s broadcast on TV and the Web.
Rosa Cha’s price points, from $190 to $650 for bathing suits, aren’t exactly made-to-order for the difficult economy. But Slama said consumers will appreciate the handmade work and variety of materials beyond the typical jersey fabric. “We love to develop fabrics and try different things,” he said. “We develop 350 styles for each collection. It’s not only swimwear, it’s a way of getting dressed in the summer.”
Slama, who studied history in college and worked as a bartender before founding Rosa Cha 15 years ago, believes his overtly sexy designs will find an American audience. “The [Brazilian] climate generates very sensual women and men,” he said. “They don’t live only in Brazil, they’re very global.”