WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Ma Maniére is officially open, but it’s not open. Because of the hordes that lined H Street in Northeast D.C. on Friday, store owner James Whitner told the crowd that he’d postponed the opening, even as a few still meandered about hoping he would change his mind.
“We will never release a sneaker from this location again,” said Whitner, who on that day was releasing the Nike Off-White Prestos, the Adidas Yung-1s and several Jordans. “I’m going to try to tie releases to community outreach initiatives and if you participate, you can buy. I can’t change anything if I don’t change anything.”
For brands such as J.W. Anderson, Greg Lauren, Comme des Garçons Play and Visvim, Whitner’s A Ma Maniére concept is a chance for the brands to introduce themselves to a covetable customer. In most cases, Whitner opens shops in secondary markets such as Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.; Pittsburgh; Houston, and Tampa Bay, Fla., and is the first person to bring these brands to a particular region. He also runs stores in Atlanta.
Washington has a few streetwear and sneaker boutiques, including Ubiq, Diet Starts Monday, a retail store and restaurant, and Commonwealth. But Whitner believes there was space for a multibrand boutique that felt like home — literally and figuratively. Next to the three-level shop is A Ma Maniére Living, which features two suites that customers can pay to stay in.
“This is showing the evolution of the streetwear customer and how they are growing up,” said Whitner, who has acquired a love for interiors from traveling and redesigning his own house. “You can’t just put things on shelves anymore. It can’t be that transactional. You have to have a love affair with the customer.”
The store also has a residential feel. On the first floor, sneakers are displayed alongside Bodega Rose planters, coffee table books and mugs on wooden shelves with light boxes. Across from that is a series of Kaws artwork. The second floor, which opens to an outdoor patio area where customers can lounge, is stocked with Bape and Baby Milo apparel and accessories. Whitner said this is the first time the brand has had an extensive presence in D.C. And the basement features more sneakers and apparel.
The shop is stocked with brands ranging from A Cold Wall, Amiri and Ambush to Human Made, Stone Island and Polo Sport. A small sign detailing information about each brand is merchandised nearby. Whitner said these brands aren’t new to his stores, but he will be able to delve deeper into outerwear as D.C. is a seasonal area unlike most of the other regions where his stores are located.
Next door is a separate entrance to A Ma Maniére Living, which consists of a one-bedroom unit and a two-bedroom unit. Whitner, who said for the first 60 days the suites will be open to friends and family, noted that the market will dictate rental prices, but he foresees those ranging from $500 to $1,500 a night. Elements from the store such as the Bodega Rose planters and the Bearbrick toys by Medicom, transfer over to the suites, which are also stocked with A Ma Maniére Living product such as robes, dice and playing cards — mostly everything in the suite is for sale. When customers book the suite, they will be prompted to fill out a preferences questionnaire and offer their Instagram account. Associates use that to integrate personalized touches into the room, including a physical manifestation of one’s Instagram account — Instagram shots are displayed on the wall in removable, Magna frames. But the biggest draw will be the product Whitner plans to create with brand partners that will be exclusive to the suite.
Up next is A Ma Maniére Eats, which will be a retail and pop-up restaurant space in Houston that’s set to open before the year ends. This will bring Whitner’s store count to 17 — he also owns Social Status, which sells trend-driven streetwear and contemporary brands such as A Bathing Ape, Brain Dead and APC, and APB, which targets the college demographic with brands including Pleasures, Carrots and 10 Deep and Prosper, its own vertical, midprice point streetwear brand. Each of these stores sits under The Whitaker Group.
Whitner, who independently owns these shops, said he’s frequently approached by private equity groups, but is usually not pleased with the terms of the deals. Instead, he plans to push ahead solo with more store openings and a bigger investment in private label. As of now, opening spaces in New York and Los Angeles isn’t a main priority.
“I’m not chasing those markets,” said Whitner. “I have no ambition to move without purpose. In general I’m trying to change the way people view retail and push my customers to reach further and you don’t need to be in New York or L.A. to do that.”