If you live in New York and you happen to prefer Alaia and Proenza over Aldo and Payless--even if it's just to look at--you've probably heard of Tribeca boutique Edon Manor. Launched in 2007, the beautifully furnished, beautifully stocked shop attracts those chasing after the perfect pair of Giambattista Valli pumps but aren't willing to hike all the way uptown to Bergdorf to get them. (The boutique also happens to be right around the corner from Locanda Verde--one of our favorite restaurants in the city--and Smith & Mills, a favorite bar.)
Now the team behind Edon Manor wants to get to know shoppers outside of their New York City niche a little bit better. Owners Ryan Korban and Davinia Wang recently launched their gorgeous e-commerce boutique, Edonmanor.com. I recently sat down with the duo to discuss what it's like to build a luxury boutique in the midst of a recession, and how to maintain unexpected success.
Fashionista: I’d like to hear how you guys got together. How did you two meet?
Davinia Wang: Through friends. We actually both went to The New School and I was at Parsons.
Ryan Korban: So, we met at school.
DW: Yeah, at school really. Through a mutual friend and then we just got closer.
RK: She was in Parsons for design management so she was studying the business of fashion, and I was going to the New School for cultural media studies--more liberal arts stuff.
How long into your friendship did you decide to open Edon Manor? DW: The summer after I graduated. Ryan is younger than me, so he was still in school when we opened the store.
RK: I also took longer to graduate....
DW: We were on holiday in Europe. We were in London, France and I was like, “What am I gonna do?” You’re always at that crossroad that summer. There were unanswered questions: “Do I get a job?” “Do I stay in New York?” I was in New York with a student visa so I was like, how am I going to stay? Where am I going to stay? I’ve always loved shoes and bags and we wanted to bring an English aesthetic--and you know, people always say fashion from England is so forward so were thought we would start something that kind of brings an English aesthetic to New York.
So you (Davinia) grew up in England? What Part? DW: Mhm..London.
What area? DW: Notting Hill Gate
I lived in South Kensington for a while and then Finsbury Park. DW: Yeah Kensington is big. The Windsor Castle Pub is like my favorite pub in London. DW: Where is that one? It’s up the Camden Hill Road. DW: Oh yeah that narrow road that really tiny pub.
It's really cute. So, you got a work visa and sorted all that out? DW: Yeah, exactly. Because I was starting a business here. Don’t worry I didn’t marry Ryan or anything.
Hahah, I understand. I dealt with that crap when I lived abroad. DW: And Ryan was always really into interior design even though he was doing cultural and media studies. He always loved that English aesthetic and European kind of design.
RK: I remember she was talking about maybe doing an all shoe line. I had done some internships in fashion so I was really drawn to that world as well. But I was really more into studying the culture, history of things…I did a lot of European studies. When I was sort of getting ready to graduate we came up with the idea of an accessories boutique that we wanted to call a “neighborhood boutique,” which we didn’t really feel like existed. I feel like it existed maybe a little on Bleeker Street in the beginning before it got really crazy, when Marc Jacobs opened his first accessories store on the corner of Bleeker and Perry. Which I just thought was so stunning, it was perfume and gloves and bags and shoes and it felt really like a real luxury neighborhood spot. The first thing we did was this crazy mood board of images that just felt really appropriate and it all started like that. The next thing we knew we were looking at spaces and then it all sort of just.... How did you guys choose this neighborhood in particular? DW: Well, I think it kind of reminded me of the Notting Hill Gate area. It's very residential and quiet and its not crazy like Mayfair or Park Lane [wealth neighborhoods in London] and what not. It's sort of more subtle. That’s why I liked it. You know, Ledbury Road is another one of my favorite streets with really nice restaurants and cafés and then furniture stores. Then there's Matches and boutiques that carry really nice things. It's kind of a quiet way to shop. you know matches and boutiques that carry really nice things. You know it’s kind of That’s why we chose Tribeca. It's close to SoHo but not in the craziness of SoHo.
RK: I think that for awhile, uptown was very much for an older clientele and it was sort of like this decadent shopping and over the top shopping and then for a while you know downtown shopping really became this sort of minimalistic, futuristic thing, and there really wasn’t anywhere where I saw girls going that were still young but that they really appreciated shopping in a luxurious setting. You know it was all very Jeffrey and Calvin Klein and very minimal and then uptown was sort of extravagant. So it was sort of finding a place like that that made sense. And I think the taste level here is very nice and I love the idea of who the customer is. You know a woman who’s maybe had her first child or is pregnant for the first time or you know—just got married or engaged. It’s really a neighborhood where people are starting their life and they don’t necessarily want a busy life like in SoHo, but uptown feels too stuffy for them.
Definitely. I totally know what you mean. RK: It’s like an effortless cool here.
Yeah I love it. You have a lot of amazing brands...Alaia, Proenza. How did you approach these buyers? Obviously you have friends that work in fashion, but was that part hard? DW: Yeah it was at the beginning....
RK: Our key thing was our design, aesthetic, and approach. We put together sort of a binder and we have this really really beautiful rendering of the first idea of the store.
DW: Like a watercolor rendering.
RK: We found a random artist off of Craigslist to do it for us and he is so talented. And I’m really picky and....
RK: and a little crazy and over the top so it was like….we paid a lot of detail to what it looked like. It still has been a struggle but I think once we got a few of the right people in line which were like Alaia and Givenchy--and people started to see how beautiful the space was--then the others really started to follow quickly. I feel like we had a hard time at the beginning, but then I look back on it and the nice thing is we didn’t really chase anyone that much…we asked here and there and were let down a few times but all the brands that we wanted always came back around to us. That’s incredible. It’s really impressive. What year did you start? Was it 2007 or 2008? DW: It’s been three years exactly so 2007.
RK: It feels like longer since we’ve been working on it for so long.
DW: Yeah 2006 really because it took like a year for us to find the space, design it….
RK: Yeah, everything is custom here so….
It’s incredible. Is there a particular furniture designer that you worked with or... RK: I mean everything is customized.
It’s gorgeous…so you found vintage pieces and then said "I want this done to them"? RK: I mean we literally had shop drawings done and they like made them from scratch. A few things are new pieces and some of the more obvious antique pieces did come from antique dealers but the sofa you’re sitting on and the chairs and the ottoman and that long table were literally made from shop drawings. In terms of what you do every day, what are your individual roles? I’m sure you wear many hats. RK: Well, it's hard because we really do everything together and I think that...I think our roles are constantly changing.
So what would say right now your typical day is like from when you get here to…. RK: Do you want a boring day? [laughs] A lot of days we're just sending emails all day. I think the most exciting part is probably researching new brands, going to show rooms, doing our buying appointments, meeting with designers, and meeting with editors, and that sort of exciting thing, you know, sort of sitting down, talking about past seasons or previous seasons and deciding what we're going to do for the next season. I mean definitely the most exciting thing is when we’re sort of gearing up to do another season and you know we talk about what brands we’re gonna let go, if we’d like to add some or if there are brands we want to see more of or too much of certain colors, then you know, obviously....
DW: we do reports [on what's selling well and what's not].
RK: and obviously going to all the shows in New York and Europe is always our favorite part. Just seeing what brands like Alaia are doing, Givenchy, Nina Ricci….
DW: It’s always fun to switch them around too because I’d say half of the brands we have--on average I'd say we have aboutn 10 designers each season--so I’d say about five of those are stable designers that constantly buy and go to every single market date for. But then the other five are kind of like...we can switch them around a bit and add a new one and switch another one out.
Do you plan on keeping it kind of at that minimal 10...do you think that works? DW: I think we might be a little…I mean….10 is just shoes. Then we have bag people who just do bags, so lets say, add another three, so I’d say its around thirteen and between those we switch it out. I mean, this is probably really full right now for the shop and its always important for us to not go too crazy and over crowd, because, you know, the interior is already so rich. That’s one of the problems I think some of the vendors don’t understand. It’s like, they try and say "Can you buy more?" "Can you pick more styles?" and it's always hard for us to say, "Well you know, we just want to keep it at like four styles." Because we don't want it just to be a BRAND A store.
RK: The brands are getting better you know, now that they see what we do.
DW: It’s like if you come down to the store you’ll know what we mean. So, did you spend the last month in Europe? What’s the schedule for market? DW: We attend the main fashion months. March and October are the months that we’re in Europe the most. And then I can go back home because my family still lives there.
RK: And this time we looked at some new designers in London as well while we were there.
London Fashion Week was amazing. RK: I mean, even outside of fashion week, just afterward when things are more quiet it's like nice to go around and talk to new brands because obviously they’re on less of a strict schedule.
DW: And then the ones in the middle like resort and pre-fall, which are around July and January…the only ones we would really go and see is Alaia. Because they don't come to you. But other brands like Givenchy travel to New York during those seasons.
In terms of London--I hadn't been to LFW in about six years so I was really blown away and I just thought the quality was so good and there were amazing shoes. Is there anyone in particular labels that you thought…maybe you’re not going to buy them this year, but they really impressed you and it’s something that you’re watching. DW: Yeah. Nicholas Kirkwood--he does a lot for other people as well. I don't know if she does her own shoes, but Louise Goldin is really good, too. I think someone mentioned her to us before because we used to work with Rupert Sanderson which is really...you know..kind of like a Manolo Blahnik of England. His shoes are really popular...but only in England. That was our problem with him in the beginning. No one really knew him over here …people still don’t really know him now and because of the Euro and stuff it was a lot more expensive for anyone to buy them here and for them to be spending a thousand dollars on a pump...they'd rather buy an Alaia pump…you know..so…I think they were the first to work with her in the very beginning when she had her first fashion show and she had shoes but I'm not sure what she does now.
RK: I don’t know if she does just shoes but she's still is around..she's amazing. she’s so much fun…. Yeah, she seems really cool. I went to her presentation and I was just like blown away. DW: and it’s crazy because she’s been doing it for a really long time.
Yeah, that’s incredible. Is there any chance you think you may be moving into ready to wear or do you think you’re gonna stick with accessories? RK: I don’t think we’d ever move into RTW. I think that the other element to the store is thinking of different ways to become more of a lifestyle brand. Furniture is a big part, scent is a big part, books are a big part. I think a lot of that comes from just like also doing my interior design as well and just from us and our love for Europe and all that kind of stuff. But I think we'd prefer to do something with scent or with books than move into ready to wear....
DW: Or homey or something.
That makes sense. You know, I just think that’s more of our niche.
I would love to know what an Edon Manor scent would smell like. RK: We talk about this…it's something I really want to do, whether it is just a home scent or a perfume or a body scent. And not to sound cocky but I do think that there ARE very few stores in the world where I’d want to purchase just their scent and I have a strong feeling that we are one of those few.
Definitely. How much your work is going out and networking and meeting new people and seeing new designers? Is that a big part of what you do? DW: I mean I think so. Meeting people, no matter what you do, is always part of it. If we didn’t go and look for new designers or if we didn’t you know—meet people--we wouldn’t have an idea of what people are up to and if we didn’t have an idea of what people are up to then we’d be sort of lost. But you know, having said that, I still like to maintain a certain amount of integrity.
In terms of what you think might be next: is another store possible? RK: I think that’s the hope. But I think that what people forget about retail is that it takes a really long time. You know when you look at store now that has a really big name people sort of assume that it opened up just that year. Then you go back and look at the actual day it opened. You know the most popular boutiques we look at now have been around for ten years or whatever.
DW: And I think that retail has changed now. It’s not such a like physical thing that’s important. I mean, we just launched our e-commerce site like a month and half ago, so I feel like that would lead us into a different direction.
And has that kind of clicked? RK: What we’re focusing on right now is definitely the e-commerce business.
DW: And also social networking and that kind of stuff.
RK: We’re getting onto that because like you know…for all of the positives we have, we've been weak at the modern part of this. So that's really our new thing. We're trying.
DW: We have a Facebook page! We were kind of reluctant. But we have one now!
I understand. I'm on Twitter…obviously I write for the Web..yet I hate Facebook. But you have to do it. It reaches so many people and like random people are on it...random wealthy older women. Mom is obsessed. RK: It's not just college kids.
What would you say, in terms of e-commerce itself, is the biggest challenge? Because, it seems to me that..you know, I’ve written a lot about the business side of things and opening an e-commerce boutique when you’re brick and mortar is a lot harder than people imagine…what has been the hardest part? RK: I think the competition of letting people know…I mean…our name is relatively small in the retail spectrum when you’re looking at Niemen Marcus or saks.com and macys.com. But the thing is: Our name is small, but our product is really big. You know what I mean, Givenchy is huge. So we’ve been faced with a lot of competition like that and you know it’s a totally new world on how to beat that bigger company. It's very technical. It has to do a lot with Google and how many hits you're getting and how much content is out there and that’s something we’re all learning but I definitely think. I mean, for me, the biggest challenge is getting people to know that Givenchy is sold at Edon Manor in Tribeca and not just BIG E-COMMERCE SITE HERE.
Well now I know. Thanks for doing this, guys!