Concepts enters a new chapter as it approaches its 25th anniversary next year, with the opening of a new flagship on Newbury Street in its hometown of Boston.
The 4,700-square-foot store opening on Oct. 24 introduces the sneaker and streetwear retailer’s new concept, which showcases Concepts’ private label and Vrsnl, the women’s-focused luxury boutique housed on the top floor. In November, Concepts will open a New York City location at 99 University Place near Union Square.
The ground floor of the Boston flagship features brands such as Stone Island, John Elliott, Aimé Leon Dore and Pleasures along with the private-label apparel and accessories that launched in 2019 and represent a small percentage of the business now, but is one of the big pushes for the retailer, which has collaborated with Lacoste and Showtime Networks for thje television show “Billions.” The top level serves as the first brick-and-mortar location for Vrsnl, a sister brand owned by Concepts.
The flagship, designed in partnership with Sid Lee, connects the floors with a staircase inspired by the Greek “theatron” and takes the form of an art gallery with different environments and a zinc cube that casts light at different angles. In addition, the store houses a headwear customization space launching with All My Hats Are Dead, a DJ booth and Concepts’ “Constant Change” area for rotating special projects and collaborations on the mezzanine.
“This is the biggest retail expansion for us to date,” said Concepts founder and chief executive officer Tarek Hassan. “The store is a physical representation of Concepts across three floors on the iconic street in Boston. We’ve always been looking for a space that can tell the full Concepts story. It took us awhile to find that space, but it was part of our growth plan for a few years now.”
Hassan began Concepts at Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., in 1996, providing the city with the top sneaker releases and establishing the store as a hub for streetwear brands and the community. The retailer also has stores on Hudson Street in Manhattan, and globally in Dubai and Shanghai.
The new Boston flagship receives operational and logistical support from Zappos, which Concepts entered into a business relationship with in 2018, and allows the retailer to share its complete vision.
“It was very important that we had a partnership that can help with logistics and customer service,” Hassan said of the Zappos deal. “They totally understand and respect our brand and culture and have been amazing support.”
The relationship stretches to Vrsnl, which carries brands such as Balmain, Lanvin, Stella McCartney, Marni, Proenza Schouler and Vetements. The concept shop will be located only in the Boston store and will also offer private label and collaborations that are launching in 2021.
“Developing the first and only physical expression of Vrsnl at the new Boston flagship was a top priority,” Hassan added. “Now, timed with the flagship opening, we are proud to present what we have been working on, from building out the Vrsnl e-comm and social infrastructure to establishing brand relationships and developing a laser-sharp buy to establishing the right roles internally in Boston. When the plans for 18 Newbury were coming together, and with it being our Boston flagship, it was the ideal time to carve out a dedicated space for the Vrsnl brand to speak to our luxury-oriented consumers, across men’s wear, but specifically women’s wear. While the brands are two separate platforms, there is so much synergy between the two, and that’s because of our unique perspective and lens on this space.”
Turning to New York, the 1,000-square-foot unit that opened on Hudson Street in 2014 is moving to a 2,500-square-foot location off Union Square to better establish Hassan’s vision for Concepts in New York City.
“Tarek’s vision has always been how do we build a community in New York and we always knew we need a better, bigger space to connect with the community the way we want,” said Concepts president Darin O’Brien. “We want to elevate the brand as a destination and as a retailer and provide the experience as a brand, better connection with the local community and brands we’re doing business with. There is much to be said and done with the New York store and it’s an exciting one for us.”
Hassan has plans to open more Concepts locations, but is focused on these two for now. “We have many projects lined up as we finish this year and into 2021,” he said. “Our goal is to get these stores open, established and take it from there.”
All of this comes despite the pandemic, which forced the stores to close. “To see Boston go from a vibrant city to a ghost town was pretty shocking,” he said.
O’Brien added, “As we were in lockdown, we’ve come out of this stronger in terms of communication and teamwork. The growth wasn’t substantial, but it was helpful to go through it, see where we’ve been and spend time talking about where we’re going. There weren’t any furloughs, the brands have been supportive and e-commerce helped us out.”
So while many brands and retailers shift their focus to e-commerce, Hassan intends to keep Concepts as primarily a brick-and-mortar business.
“Concepts will always be brick-and-mortar, it’s the heart and soul of the business,” he said. “The energy is starting to come back. Our stores’ traffic is definitely improving even with restrictions. It feels good, but at the same time there’s caution, as there should be. We’ve learned much from the first lockdown and if it happens again we’ll be better prepared. We have a better plan in place to act on.”