Brands look to SoHo ‘fashion hub’ as pandemic stimulus – Glossy
This week, find out why St. John and other fashion brands galore are bringing their pandemic era makeovers to SoHo.
Fifty-nine-year-old luxury knitwear brand St. John is making a concerted effort to reach younger customers. His game plan: expand his assortment of versatile clothing, offer more affordable products through accessories and open a pop-up in trendy SoHo in New York.
âIt’s the fashion hub of the world,â Andrew Lew, deputy general manager of St. John, said of SoHo. âAnd as we expand our demographics, it’s an opportunity to introduce the brand to customers. If the store is successful, based on sales, it plans to switch to a long-term lease to keep it. St. John currently has 37 stores, including a store on Fifth Avenue.
As America’s oldest luxury ready-to-wear brand – Ralph Lauren is 54 and Calvin Klein is 53 – St. John has seen its fair share of ups and downs. It’s a common story in the luxury space: It struggles to find its bearings, with its main customers “aging” wearing its styles, as Lew put it. Keeping them while pivoting to connect with younger buyers is a difficult balance to strike.
Unsatisfactory attempts have led to many frame rotation to the brand over the past 20 years. In 2018, former PetSmart and Diane von Furstenberg executive Eran Cohen was hired as CEO. He called on artistic director Zoe Turner, former designer of Max Mara and Christian Dior Couture, before announcing a global rebranding, all the way to the logo, in November 2019. He left the company last April.
In a meeting with him in late 2019, Cohen underscored his difficult position, noting the importance of highlighting St. John’s heritage while moving the brand forward. âNew conversations in retail take place every day, and it’s important that we are aware of and pay attention to them,â he told me.
Among executives, efforts to attract a new generation have included the casting of Angelina Jolie and Kate Winslet in campaigns, in 2005 and 2011, respectively. Meanwhile, in 1997, St. John would have launched a low cost line targeting young customers called SJK. He was arrested after three seasons. On the flip side, to focus on its core assortment, it folded its perfect St. John Sport line for a pandemic “about five years ago,” Lew said.
The new St. John’s pop-up assortment includes a crew-neck sweatshirt, which is just one of many sweatshirt styles the brand now offers. He also sells hoodies and joggers, in various manufactures. Lew called a French terry style with a knitted logo “our version of a streetwear sweatshirt.” The new incorporation of logos aims to ensure recognition as the brand departs from its signature styles. It’s also a game for the Asian market, where âlogos are important,â Lew said.
Going forward, Lew plans to push the brand’s âlifestyleâ options beyond the âbutton-downâ corporate wear and evening wear he is known for. But at the same time, he called evening wear the current “bright spot” in the business, with events starting to return. The category has historically accounted for around 27% of the business, and it now accounts for 33%, he said. All things considered, you can almost be sympathetic to the reversal of the brand’s directions.
The brand’s change of hands also forced instability. After being managed by the Robert and Marie Gray families, based in Irvine, Calif., St. John was acquired by Escada in 1989. It then went public in 1993 and was private six years later. Chinese company Fosun Fashion Group, which owns Lanvin and Wolford, among other luxury brands, took a controlling stake in the company in 2013. For 2020, FFS reported revenue of around $ 21.2 billion. , a decrease of 5% compared to the previous year.
âWe’ve been through different variations of the business, as many brands do, but few survive to age 59,â Lew said. “The brand and what the Grays have built is the story of an American dream, and I want to be a great chapter in St. John’s history.”
Where the brand has had an edge over the past 18 months is in its vertically integrated production, which takes place at its headquarters in Irvine and Baja, Mexico. Although its factories were forced to close during the pandemic, they switched to making masks at the earliest opportunity, helping to maintain cash flow.
But luck has been against the brand more recently when many companies delayed plans to return to the office after Labor Day, Lew said.
Lew has experience running businesses that were unsuitable for his time. Until early this year he was chairman of Brooks Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy in July 2020. For St. John, he will roll out his own âvery, very aggressiveâ growth plan for the business over the next few months.
âThe state of the business is never where I want it to be because we always want to do better than what we do,â he said. âBut we are definitely going in the direction we want to go. “
Establishing more control through DTC sales is a priority, especially through the brand’s e-commerce site. According to Lew, luxury brands that sell accessories “fare better” because market customers don’t trust the fit of clothes purchased online. Therefore, props are one of its “categories of prosecution”. As such, the brand is ramping up production of gift-giving scarves, as well as new jewelry from $ 150 to $ 300 that can serve as a brand gateway for young consumers. The jewelry collection is made in the same factory that manufactures the St. John’s clothing buttons. Additionally, Turner has introduced shoes and handbags to the St. John’s arsenal for the past 18 months.
In the future, Lew also wants to open more pop-ups, as well as permanent stores. St. John will announce another pop-up in a few weeks, he said, declining to provide further details. He added that the brand’s new e-commerce customers are helping it determine where its buyer base is and where to set up stores.
As for SoHo’s pop-up, he called it a âtesting and learning spaceâ from which he hopes to gain applicable learnings for other stores. Archival pieces in limited edition colors will be among the first offerings on the floor. Although he refused to share the terms of the lease, Lew said the store was a “great opportunity”.
âSoHo is completely back to normal,â he said. âHe has energy. This is where you want to be as a fashion brand.
I can attest, firsthand, that there is no shortage of foot traffic, but the same can always be said of unoccupied storefronts.
Brands take over retail space in downtown Manhattan
It looks like fashion brands are finally ready to take advantage of the offers available in SoHo’s storefronts. According to a report According to the New York Real Estate Board, in the first half of 2021, asking rents in the neighborhood fell almost 40% year-on-year.
In September alone, those who opened permanent stores in the area included PatBo (65 rue Greene), Amiri (76 rue Greene), Twenty Montreal (242 rue Lafayette) and American Eagle’s AE77 (83 rue Spring). Jonathan Adler, founder of his eponymous trendy interior design brand, has purchased an entire 8,000 square foot building at 382 West Broadway.
And the pop-ups are equally popular, opened by Jil Sander (96 Greene Street) and St. John in September, among others. Shoe brand Sarah Flint will open a pop-up on 409 West Broadway on Tuesday, and Alejandra Alonso Rojas launched a temporary space in nearby Tribeca earlier this week.
“Especially in New York, a lot of people use their pop-ups to [more affordably] test things that are digitally focused before rolling them out on a larger scale, âsaid Sarah Engel, CMO and director of human resources at digital consultancy January Digital. Trends among these tests include creating a showroom style store. âThese stores are small and don’t have any products in them, but they do offer same day delivery,â she said. Additionally, brands are testing âcontactless payment, allowing customers to just pick up something and walk in the doorâ.
For her part, Sarah Flint, founder of her eponymous brand, said she tried out the showroom model with her first SoHo pop-up, in 2019. But, she found that “customers wanted to leave with the product” , she said. So this time around, his store will be filled with inventory.
Flint will be leveraging its community of 800 female ambassadors to drive traffic to the store, located on the same street as the 2019 pop-up. This store has proven to be “a huge driver of brand awareness and development. ‘customer acquisition,’ she said.
“It’s my dream to have a [store] NYC, but it has been difficult to make permanent plans, given everything that is going on in the world, âsaid Flint. She added that there were plenty of properties to choose from, making sure she had a space to match her vision.
“Our approach to retail has always been about creating an environment where customers learn about the brand, but also feel free to come in, sit down and have a cup of tea and a chocolate chip cookie,” she declared.
For its part, the Pop-up Alejandra Alonso Rojas (87 Franklin St.) is expected to remain open until November. But founder Alejandra Alonso Rojas says she can extend her lease month by month.
âMy goal is to keep it as a permanent store,â she said, adding, âI have to admit that when the opportunity to open the store in Tribeca came up, it made me so happy. has an ease and embodies the relaxed luxury vibe that defines [my brand]. “
Her approach to the store was to create “an exciting and very personalized experience for customers,” she said. The focal point of the store is hanging clothing items like âworks of art in an exhibitionâ.
âBeing able to showcase the AAR universe is so important to me,â she said. She hosted her first pop-up in Tribeca in 2018.
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