CHICAGO — Lou & Grey, the casual sister to Loft and Ann Taylor, is focused on expanding its presence through a steady rollout of freestanding stores.
The activewear-inspired lifestyle brand launched in January 2014 in Loft stores.
“We really believe in this way of dressing effortlessly,” said Ardith Singh, design director at Lou & Grey. “When you walk in our store, you feel it’s not just about our clothes. It’s about the whole lifestyle.”
The store here, which opened in April on Southport Avenue, is the latest to bow and is the biggest unit to date, spanning 2,716 square feet.
Next up is Dallas, with a 2,154-square-foot store slated to open in June at NorthPark Center. A spokesman for the company said the retailer plans to open a “few more” stores within the year, with El Segundo, Calif., being among those destinations. An e-commerce site will launch by the end of the summer.
Lou & Grey’s expansion strategy is one question raised this week by news that its parent company, Ann Inc., has struck a deal to be sold to the Ascena Retail Group for $2.2 billion. The deal has been approved by both boards and is expected to close in the second half of this year. Ascena owns such chains as Dressbarn, Justice, Maurices and Lane Bryant. The combination is expected to lead to synergy savings of $150 million over three years.
Lou & Grey has seven stores, with locations in San Jose and Pasadena, Calif.; Boston; Westport, Conn.; Alpharetta, Ga., and Raleigh, N.C. Loft still carries the line, but the namesake stores are where the collection comes to life.
“What I love is walking into each store we open and we meet the store managers and see how they take the jewelry and clothing and put it together. That’s part of the fun,” Singh said.
Like the clothes in soft muted colors displayed about the store, the Southport Avenue boutique’s decor features a lived-in feel — washed wood floors, worn-in leather sofas, books and vinyl records. Being part of the community is in the brand’s DNA, and in Chicago, the store features lines made by local artists and craftspeople: jewelry by metalsmith maker Mineralogy, all-natural beauty products by Town & Anchor, vegan apothecary by Hidden Folk and stationery by Steel Petal Press, a printing and letterpress run by artist Shayna Norwood.
In terms of apparel, the collection ranges from featherweight T-shirts and washable silks to knits and woven linens. For fall, it will include leather, cashmere and brushed sateen. Silhouettes are loose, and signature pieces for spring include hoodie Ts, denim overalls and slouchy jogger pants. Retail prices range from $29.50 for a T-shirt to $59.50 for knit pants, $98 for a silk blouse and $198 for suede shorts.
“We want to make things we want to live in,” said Singh. “It’s about making sure things are really soft and cozy and you want to put it on every day and every morning. We always start with the easy pieces, the must-haves — your perfect T-shirt, your perfect legging and your perfect pair of jeans. That’s who Lou & Grey is.”
“It’s like, how do we take that simplicity when you’re on vacation and give that to her in everyday life?” said Francoise Olivas, director of new creative concepts at Lou & Grey. “Last year, we went to L.A. on a design trip and we were sharing a hotel room. We’re a start-up and we took this amazing road trip from L.A. to Palm Springs. It was just about getting there, looking out and seeing the colors and being around nature.”
The key, company executives said, is for the clothes to be versatile.
“Whether she’s a new mom, or working at this corporate job or running to meet her friends for dinner, she can always live in Lou & Grey,” Olivas said. “The clothing should not wear the woman, the woman should wear the clothes. That’s something that’s really translated into the brand.”