There's been a lot of change for Reed Krakoff, both the man and his eponymous label, over the past eight months. This summer, the designer left his post as the creative director of Coach after 16 years and bought his namesake brand from the company; in March, he took over as CEO following the departure of CEO and President Valerie Hermann; and just last month, he announced that he'd be handing over the CEO reins to Harlan Bratcher, formerly of Armani Exchange.
It's enough to make your head spin. On top of all the leadership changes, Krakoff was busy designing his second Manhattan store, located in the former Anne Fontaine boutique at 93 Greene Street in Soho, for which he hosted an opening party on Wednesday evening. The store is beautiful, even by high-end retail standards: A light, ethereal space grounded by rawer elements, like vintage etageres covered in canvas and light bulbs suspended from metal rods that looked as if they had been ripped from the walls (courtesy of artist Nick Allman). It's hard to decide what is more striking, the canvas-covered chairs mounted on the wall next to the entrance, or the cloud-like formation of felt that brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec designed to frame a back doorway.
We asked Krakoff a few questions about the store design and what's next for his label, including his plans to introduce products with more accessible price points.
I understand you were very hands-on with the store.
The store my wife and I designed together. We settled on the space about a year ago. Then it took a couple months to get the real estate deal, to gut and then renovate it. As we were doing it, we started taking to different artists about doing installations in this space. The idea was, once a year, to change the installations. I was trying to bring art and design into the store in a real way. All of the felt pieces my wife made, and all the cases were vintage cases that we restored, reupholstered in this artist canvas that we painted. It's more personal. I think with stores it has to be personal, they're all starting to look the same.
What impression do you want customers to leave the store with?
I think that surprising is the first. I want them to as interested in the space as they are in design [goods], the bags and the shoes and the clothes. Hopefully the environment and decoration and design give them a better idea of the brand, gives meaning to a handbag or a dress or shoe. Like an ad campaign or website, it should tell a story.
At some luxury stores, associates are warm and welcoming; at others, more austere. How do you train your store associates, what attitude should they have?
I think there's a balance between the two. People need to be perceived that they're there because they want to be there. I want [associates] to be friendly but not overly friendly -- I think sometimes people just want to look around the store, and you don't want to be too on top of them. It's important that [associates] understand what's in the store; they're all educated about the artists in the store, why we chose them.
What is your customer like?
We have such a broad customer. For sure she's someone who doesn't dress head to toe [in one designer], she's not trendy in an obvious way, she's someone that I would say doesn't dress in an obvious way, wants something that has quality, something that has a longevity element. She's very worldly. A lot of women who are our customers have their own businesses, go to auctions, travel, are involved in charity, have children, have very full lives.
How do you get information about customers? Do you mostly talk to store associates? Do you ever spend time in stores?
I do. I guess that's something I've always done, spent time with customers. It's one thing to hear it from someone else. I talk to a lot of people. I'm always in and out of other people's stores as well. Walking down in Soho today I passed two girls with our bags; I look at who they are and what else they're wearing. I look at what bag our customer is carrying. By far the most is Hermes.
I understand you're moving into lower-priced handbags and accessories. Will that be separately branded? Why are you doing that?
It's something we're not talking about too much yet, but you know we've built this brand over the past few years and it's time for us to express it and to make it more available to a broader array of people. It's something that we've always, from day one, wanted to do. I like the idea of building a luxury brand that's not based on price. For me, that's what luxury is about, it's not the prices -- a lot of times people talk too much about price when they talk about luxury, but there are expensive things that are well done, and there are expensive things that are poorly done. For us, it's that idea of design across broader price points, and more distribution, a broader group of people. Not everyone can afford a $2,000 bag, obviously.