Get ready for French designer Jean-Claude Jitrois, known for his luxurious stretch leather designs, to have a significant retail presence in the U.S. within the next few years, all thanks to two entrepreneurial women from outside the fashion world. The first location born from the partnership opened this month on Madison Avenue in New York.
About a year and a half ago, Jitrois met Dallas-based businesswoman Jodi Shelton, who has run her own communications company for over 20 years, through mutual friends in Europe. "We decided we would do something together and we started to look at the States," said Yann Patry, the brand's marketing director, when I met with him and Jitrois at the New York store. He said Shelton was already familiar with the brand through its pop-up in Aspen, which has been the only Jitrois store in the U.S. since a New York pop-up opened briefly in the summer of 2012. Shelton brought in another member of the same Aspen ski resort community, Annette Presley, to help provide financial backing. Presley is from New Zealand and just this year sold the telecommunications company she co-founded for $250 million.
Neither Shelton nor Presley has any fashion experience, but Patry says it doesn't matter."It's only about the finance, it's about the passion," he said. "To find partners that buy into your philosophy — the commitment, the finance, the passion and thanks to all of this we have the store."
Jitrois knew there was a demand in New York because he has been hosting trunk shows at private apartments in the city since the '80s. The 700-square-foot Madison Avenue boutique was designed by Christophe Pillet, a French designer, in accordance with the other locations overseas — featuring fully mirrored walls, lots of LED lights and columns of floor to ceiling acrylic rods. The goal, Jitrois said, is for all his stores to feel like Parisienne boudoirs where the customer can feel comfortable trying and buying his designs.
It's the ninth Jitrois location worldwide -- others include Beijing, Hong Kong and three in France. "We strongly believe in our partnership with Jodi," said Patry about Shelton, whose title is now CEO of Jitrois NYC. Jitrois has signed a contract with her to open stores in Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles and Dallas. He thinks Las Vegas will be the next to open, by the end of 2015, with a Miami store to follow soon after. They also want to renovate the Aspen store. "Its all going to go pretty quick — in terms of logistics, it all makes more economic sense to have fairly quickly more shops in the U.S.," said Jitrois, who spoke in French with Patry translating. "It's been more than 30 years that the brand keeps really fresh and has redefined itself," he continued.
Jitrois founded the brand in 1983 and quickly found success when his bright leather jackets and dresses were worn famously by Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Brooke Shields and other style icons of the decade. Then in 1995, he developed a technique to create stretch leather by bonding the material with cotton. It redefined his brand and formed the foundation of his sexy, body-con leather designs that are worn today by globe-traveling, high-wealth women and celebrities like Heidi Klum and Kim Kardashian. It is still independently owned by the designer and CEO Gilbert Maria, who together have navigated the brand's partnerships throughout its over 30-year run.
To describe the company's forthcoming rapid expansion, Jitrois says, "Exciter avec prudance."
"We are excited but cautious."