By now, the industry has become familiar with the many struggles fashion retail continues to face; most recently, between its ultimate sale and subsequent store closures, Barneys New York has been the topic of much conversation. WWD even recently asked whether retailers need to dabble in rental, resale and subscription services, on top of launching e-commerce, all simply to remain relevant?
Still, in what seems like a fashion retail apocalypse, there is some hope: Smaller, independent fashion labels are flocking to New York City to open their own standalone stores. Recently, labels ranging from R13 and Sandro to LoveShackFancy and even Jeanne Damas's Rouje have set up shops in the downtown neighborhoods of Manhattan. Even more interesting, many indie European brands seem to be taking the leap and opening up shops, many of them finding new homes in the Soho neighborhood in particular.
Ahead, three indie brands from Europe with cult followings who have just opened stores in New York share their insight on why it makes sense for a small brand to open a standalone shop today, what's next for them and why they still believe in brick and mortar over anything else.
In October 2019, the Copenhagen-based brand Ganni opened its first U.S. store in the Soho neighborhood in New York City, followed by one in Los Angeles; in December, Ganni will also open a Miami location. "We always dreamt of opening stores in the U.S.," explains founder Nicolaj Reffstrup. "We've been extremely fortunate to be stocked in some of the U.S.'s finest boutiques and retailers; seeing our U.S. audience connect with our Scandi 2.0 sense of style has been incredible and we've resonated well with the market. This next step of having our own physical stores means we can welcome our community into our universe and experience Ganni in real life. It just made sense."
Ganni is focused on making each store unique — from the furnishings to exclusives within the collection. The New York store matches Ganni's eclectic, colorful aesthetic: The modern space, which sits on a corner, features floor-to-ceiling glass windows which allow light to stream through onto the signature leopard print dresses, rainbow-striped sweaters and puff-sleeve party dresses positioned between upcycled furniture and displays made of recycled plastic. It's exactly the kind of space that cool, young shoppers with unusual style can be seen exploring every day — and to Ganni, that was a major consideration in opening a standalone brick-and-mortar store.
"There's been so much talk of the death of retail, but I don't think retail is dead, it's just entering a new phase," explains Reffstrup. "It's about figuring out how you give your community a unique real-life experience, a high level of service, interesting interactions with real people and an easy, effortless shopping experience where your community feels welcome."
For a brand like Ganni, which already boasts over 400 stockists around the world, opening standalone brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. may also open the label up to new customers who discover Ganni for the first time walking by the store.
According to Reffstrup, Ganni plans to open eight more standalone locations in the U.S. over the next few years. "Our store concept reflects our own home; we want to bring a slice of Copenhagen life to the U.S. and invite our people to hang out and stay awhile, just as Ditte [the label's creative director and her husband] and I would invite our house guests to do," she adds.
Based out of London, Self-Portrait has become well-known for its feminine dresses that often incorporate lace, pleats and see-through panels since designer Han Chong launched the contemporary label in 2013. In August 2019, Self-Portrait opened its first brick-and-mortar retail space in the U.S., in New York City.
Prices are firmly in the mid range, with most pieces retailing for under $500. The label also opted for Mercer Street for the concept store location — on the same street as Ganni, just a few blocks down. The main difference, however, is that Self-Portrait is testing out the New York City brick-and-mortar experience before fully committing, with the concept store set to close in June 2020
"This is a great opportunity to welcome anyone, not only to shop but also to explore the Self-Portrait experience," says Chong. "What I've seen happening is that stores are now becoming brand ambassadors both online and offline. We want to blend these experiences to create that connection with our clients. We've built this amazing community digitally with them since we started the brand and now we get to invite them into our home to get know us more intimately."
As for why Self-Portrait selected New York as its first brick-and-mortar location, it has a lot to do with the customer base: According to Chong, the U.S. is the brand's second-largest market outside of its native UK. The store also has exclusive items that you can't find anywhere else, acting as gateway items thanks to the lighter price point. Think sticky notes, water bottles, tote bags and T-shirts, as well as signature pieces such as slip dresses or tops in special colorways.
"A physical store like the one we have created in London Mayfair and New York Mercer Street allows us as a brand to let our customers see how the brand lives," explains Chong. "In today's world you think you know someone really well because of social media and you definitely do know aspects of them, but being in someone's home allows you to know them intimately. I wanted to invite everyone to get to know Self-Portrait personally."
Nanushka has quickly become a favorite brand among New York's fashion circle and many of the top influencers. In November 2019, the label opened its first U.S. brick-and-mortar store in Soho. "Fifteen to 20% of our sales come from the States and about half of that comes from New York," explains Nanushka founder Sandra Sandor. According to Business of Fashion, Nanushka's sales are on track to hit $23.5 million this year.
With a high ceiling, a cafe, minimalist furnishings and lots of plants, the store matches the aesthetic of Nanushka's first and only other brick-and-mortar store, which is located in the brand's native Budapest. "We don't really build stores for marketing; we need them to be profitable," says Sandor. "Our Budapest store is actually doing really well. We really believe in the brick-and-mortar concept still. That's why it was quite relevant for us to open in New York."
While New York may be the first brick-and-mortar location outside of Hungary, it's certainly not the last: The brand is planning to open five more locations before the end of 2020, the next of which will be in London. The brand has launched everything from its own line of ceramics to menswear in the past year, and having a physical presence will help establish it as selling more than just clothes. "Nanushka is a lifestyle brand in a way," explains Sandor. "Through this store, we can show a whole new experience and a different level. This is related to the concept of whether or not we believe in brick and mortar. We do and we feel we can give a totally new experience."
"I think it's quite organic," says Sandor of the whole process of opening her first store outside of Europe. "We found a great location that we fell in love with."