Much has changed in the Meatpacking District since Intermix opened its boutique across from the High Line in 2012, in a retail wave that saw the departure of Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, as well as the arrival of Sephora, an Apple store and more of the neighborhood's first mass market chains. By the time the new Whitney Museum opened last summer — bringing constant foot traffic and energy to the already busy nightlife hub — real estate prices had skyrocketed, forcing smaller boutiques like Owen to close. Scoop, another multi-brand designer contemporary boutique with locations across the city, closed all its doors in May, including the Washington St. location it had for a decade. Beyond Meatpacking, the business of fashion has been challenged all across the board, as everyone from luxury brands to department stores have had to pivot to keep up with changing consumer habits.
Amidst all of this flux, Intermix has not only maintained its business — it is also growing. This year, the multi-brand retailer (which Gap acquired in 2013 for $129 million) is opening three more boutiques across the country, as well its very first space dedicated to special retail experiences. The 1,190-square-foot "creative lab," as President Jyothi Rao calls it, opened right next door to Intermix's boutique on Gansevoort and Washington on Friday with "The Next Big Things," an installation of emerging designers. Many pieces are available in-store only and are exclusive to the retailer. "We've made this expansion portion of it feel quite intimate," says Rao. "We are going to be communicating more about each of the designers, their inspirations and their stories because most people who will be shopping in that neighborhood may never have heard of them yet."
Rao describes the roster of international designers as "disruptive": Beaufille with its "refined" silhouettes and "masculine and feminine" mix; Gavlan's "cool girl" eveningwear; Alix of Bohemia's "show- stopping, Instagrammable" jackets; Alabama Muse's "outrageous coats that everyone's going to see around in the upcoming months," and more. The space will feature over 25 designers, including a few familiar names like Jonathan Simkhai and Self-Portrait.
"The concept of it is so much part and parcel of our DNA at Intermix," says Rao. "We have always taken pride in seeking out some of the most exciting design talent. It's effectively going to be a curation of this incredible roster of emerging [designers] who we believe will be the ones to watch going forward." Rao also credits Intermix's very specific aesthetic — elevated, cool, feminine and trend-driven — as the reason why the retailer continues to resonate with shoppers. "Without a doubt, the environment has been challenging, but I would say that product ultimately wins... I think what we do exceptionally well is have a very strong edit to our product," says Rao. "We don't carry full collections from any of the designers we buy, so everything is very much hand-selected. We don't try to be everything to everyone."
In addition, about 40 percent of the product sold in boutiques and online is exclusive to Intermix, and Rao says a less ubiquitous product assortment has helped Intermix rely less on sales. "Promotions are a part of our retail lives today... we just do far less than many of our competitors do," she says. Keeping a tight control on inventory has also helped. "We have a fairly small footprint in most of our boutiques, and that's been a huge advantage to us," says Rao. "We always flex our assortment to where we believe the trends are, where the strongest design creations are, and we're not tied to buying certain amounts from certain people, which I think other retailers have suffered from."
Location-specific merchandising is also a key strategy for Intermix. Rao uses the Madison Ave. and Columbus Ave. boutiques, situated on opposite sides of Central Park, as an example: The stock, store designs, window displays, staff and even mannequins at each location are different. "We are being very judicious about [opening new stores], as most retailers are," says Rao. The company closed its Dallas boutique in July, and last year it closed three additional locations and opened two. "But we feel there are still voids in the market where we are seeing high level of demands." The locations of 2016's forthcoming boutiques have yet to be announced.
Intermix identifies those market voids through its growing e-commerce business. "We do feel that we are uniquely positioned in the competitive landscape today because we are omni-channel," says Rao. "We really look at our boutiques as an extension of our website and our website as an extension of our boutiques... We are incredibly integrated across all of our points of distribution." Gap Inc. doesn't break out Intermix and Athleta's sales figures, but in the the most recent quarter ending July 30, the combined businesses' net sales grew by 12 percent. (The report was the first to not include Piperlime in the same category as a comparison point; Gap closed it in the first quarter of 2015.) But Rao did say that Intermix's e-commerce business will be about three times the size it is now "in the near future."
Also coming in the near future? Changes to the Meatpacking retail lab, where Rao says shoppers should expect something new to happen at least every quarter. "The entire environment is designed to be taken apart literally overnight, so we can make that into almost a gallery, salon kind of space within an hour," she says. Intermix might use it for events, or to celebrate one of its designers branching out into a new category. "We already have a calendar of things that we want to do — probably even more than we have the capacity to do," says Rao. "Whatever we put out there we want to execute it in an indelibly exciting and quality way."
Intermix fans take note: watch this space.