NEW YORK — “Twenty-three years it took us to get here,” said Deirdre Quinn, chief executive officer and cofounder of Lafayette 148, surveying her new Madison Avenue flagship that opens today.
The spacious 4,400-square-foot, bi-level store at 956 Madison Avenue is Lafayette 148’s third location in Manhattan and 24th store in the fleet. Called the Townhouse, the store is the cornerstone of the brand’s drive to ramp up its New York City presence — and is next door to Carolina Herrera’s newly revamped flagship.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to open on Madison Avenue,” Quinn said. “And the time is right. We’ve been downtown in SoHo for 23 years and the fact is, New York City is our single-largest market in the U.S., largely driven by Upper East Side residents.”
Founded in 1996, Lafayette 148 moved its headquarters last summer to a sprawling 90,000-square-foot space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The company retained 10,000 square feet on the eighth floor of 148 Lafayette Street in SoHo for a concept store and pop-up showroom for major market weeks. It also has a pop-up store on Broome Street.
The company has been active in the brick-and-mortar space, and looks to open two to three new stores a year in the U.S., and a similar number in China. Lafayette 148 added a West Coast flagship at California’s South Coast Plaza to its portfolio last September, as well as a Tysons Galleria boutique catering to the greater Washington, D.C., market, which opened in February. On deck is a 2,000-square-foot store in Manhasset, N.Y., that will open Oct. 15.
According to Quinn, the new Madison Avenue flagship will enable the company to cater to its customer in her own neighborhood where she lives.
“We’ve been looking for many years to find this space. We loved the double height. And this neighborhood is exactly where we wanted to be. “Our top two zip codes in the country are here,” she said, referring to the Upper East Side.
Vacancies have been a common occurrence on Madison Avenue, so it seems like an interesting time to set up shop. “I think that that customer wants it. She definitely shops online, but there’s nothing that replaces walking in and touching and feeling the product and really getting to understand the best of Lafayette,” Quinn said.
More than a store, the Townhouse is conceived as a home — a spacious and calming oasis that is welcoming, luxurious and personal. There are beautiful vases and design books displayed on the shelves, pieces from a private art collection, a cream sofa in the middle of the main level, and a coffee bar serving cappuccinos and espressos, as well as Champagne and refreshments.
The offering is selected with an eye toward luxury and exclusivity. The store features edited designs from Lafayette 148’s seasonal collections, exclusive pieces and a special Made for Madison capsule of limited-edition designs available only at the flagship. The capsule features hand-knit sweaters, jackets, and beaded and evening pieces. On the second level are footwear and accessories, along with additional ready-to-wear.
Among some of the key offerings in the store are a leather trenchcoat at $1,998; cashmere cable knit sweater at $798; an Italian white cotton shirt at $398, and an animal printed silk blouse at $598. The average price point is $798, and shearling coats go as high as $4,000, Quinn said. “It’s definitely more for the Madison Avenue customer,” she said.
She described her customer as a woman whose “life is demanding, she’s always on the move and she needs clothes to keep up with her.” Over the past several years, Lafayette 148 has been elevating its product offerings. She said that in China, where the company has 16 stores, they pushed the product into the designer zone. “China pushed the brand to the next level,” Quinn said.
“When we repositioned the brand into designer, we gave [the design team] the ability to up their game,” Quinn said. “They took it and became more creative. We definitely want a younger customer but don’t want to lose our older customer,” she said. The collection is designed by creative director Emily Smith.
Liz Fraser, president of Lafayette 148, said, “Madison Avenue is synonymous with luxury, so we set the bar very high. Lafayette 148 has always provided our clients with exceptional, personalized services, from our made-to-order program to offering her 58 sizes to choose from — and at Madison Avenue it’s important that our customers have an experience that’s truly unique and tailored to them.”
Quinn said the flagship will offer complimentary alterations with same day, white glove delivery service throughout New York City. It will also do custom orders. “If we have the fabric and pattern in Brooklyn, we will make it in 48 hours,” she said. If it’s beaded and it doesn’t have the fabric on hand, it can turn it around in three weeks. “It’s all about servicing the customer. She’s busy and we want to make her life easier,” Quinn said.
Lafayette 148 will introduce a clienteling app that will allow associates to enrich the client experience by accessing purchase history and sharing product suggestions.
Housed in a landmarked building, the bi-level space features a two-story entry, which opens onto a 1,800-square-foot ground floor. The 1,500-square-foot second floor floats above with glass ceilings, and serves as both a showroom and salon for private client services. It will also serve as a location for trunk shows. The second floor has a salon dedicated to personal shopping and an on-site seamstress and alterations team.
Barbara Gast, chief creative officer of Lafayette 148, oversaw the interior design of the store. It was designed with a modern, minimalist aesthetic with luxurious accents that reflect the store’s Upper East Side location, including marble and stone finished set pieces, oak flooring and leather risers. There are three dressing rooms — two upstairs and one downstairs.
Quinn explained that after the brand moved to Brooklyn, the company changed the entire concept of its retail stores, designing with a more feminine aesthetic and using three different light color woods, and white.
According to Quinn, the flagship’s target is to generate retail sales in excess of $4 million in the first year.
Right now the company’s highest-performing stores are in China. In the U.S., the top sales performer is Tysons Corner, followed by South Coast Plaza. “We expect Madison Avenue to move up in the queue,” she said. The company’s e-commerce site is actually the largest revenue producer of its direct-to-consumer businesses.
Lafayette 148 does a very strong business in major stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, and Quinn anticipates that the higher profile of the brand will lift sales throughout the operation. The company looks to expand internationally and currently doesn’t sell in Europe, nor does it have stores there. In fall 2020, Lafayette 148 plans to start wholesaling its footwear, which it sells in its own stores.
Lafayette 148, which does about $200 million in total volume, is a vertical operation that makes all its own clothes in its directly owned factory in Shantou, China. “We make all our own clothes, so the quality of fabrics, design and fit is right and consistency is there,” Quinn said.
Asked whether she’s worried about the tariff situation with China, she replied, “I’m not moving the factory, so we’ll work our way through the tariffs,” she said.
The opening coincides with the brand’s fall fashion campaign, #WeAreNewYork, which acknowledges the brand’s heritage and home for more than 20 years. As part of the campaign, Lafayette 148 will showcase an exhibition of photography by lensman and documentarian Patrick McMullan. Opening Oct. 24th at the Townhouse, the show is titled, “Glamour, Grit & Grace: Portraits of Iconic New York Women,” and will highlight 28 black-and-white images of trailblazing New York moments captured by McMullan during his more than 30-year career. Among those featured are Drew Barrymore, Iman, Nora Ephron, Fran Lebowitz, Debbie Harry, Sarah Jessica Parker, Liza Minnelli and Rosie Perez. The exhibition is open to the public through December.
Quinn said she’s pleased to have the Madison Avenue flagship to showcase the brand’s story and to give the customer what she wants.
“There’s so much change in the industry right now, with talk about the rise of digital, the decline in retail, the rebirth of retail,” Quinn said. “We know our customer and we’re bullish on the right retail. With our strength in direct mail, flourishing retail and strong wholesale and e-commerce businesses, we’re building a true omni-experience for the Lafayette 148 woman. If we can meet her whenever, wherever she is, we’re succeeding.”
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