Maurice and Sonia Mosseri have a habit of making bold moves. Those have included signing store leases on the spot and, subsequently, opening their doors within weeks. There was also naming their denim company Still Here amid regular fashion brand closures.
On Thursday, the founders opened their 5-year-old brand’s second NYC store, on Madison Avenue. They signed the lease within two hours of the space hitting the market and opened the store eight weeks later, getting in on the holiday shopping rush. That was despite being forced to demolish the interior and start the buildout from scratch.
“We invest in brand equity — in building the brand and bringing people into the world of the brand,” said COO Maurice Mosseri. “Retail is a big aspect of that. We’re focused on driving traffic to the store and continuing to build out the retail strategy of the business.”
The pandemic has brought unexpected changes to the retail landscape, with, for example, prime properties long occupied by single companies suddenly becoming available. As such, younger brands have had the chance to swoop in and establish a presence in desirable locations. But at the same time, as new faith in the power of physical retail sweeps the industry, giants are flexing their strength and widely expanding their store footprints.
Before landing in the Upper East Side, creative director Sonia Mosseri said, Still Here was eying Williamsburg for its second store location. However, with Chanel and Hermès moving into the neighborhood this year, competition for local retail space is at a high, which is working to the favor of larger brands. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue, which has long been hailed as “the best retail location, in the most successful zip code,” has offered brands more opportunities after being hit with several store closures, she said. For its part, Still Here is taking over a space that housed lingerie company BraSmyth for 35 years. The neighborhood’s other new tenants, joining flagships by the likes of Ralph Lauren, include contemporary brands Tanya Taylor and Me+Em.
The new Still Here store is much larger than the original location, at 1,200 square feet, compared to around 300. Still, the go-to-market experience was familiar to the founders. In May 2022, they discovered their Nolita store location, signed a deal, completed the buildout and opened the doors within 10 days.
“It was a huge risk for us,” Sonia Mosseri said regarding store No. 1, noting that the business is self-funded — the founders used wedding-gifted money to pay for the brand’s first production run. To help balance the cost of the store, originally intended to be a pop-up, they paused marketing, PR and creative-focused spending for six months.
Today, Still Here is in growth mode, having doubled its revenue this year, which can be owed, in part, to organic virality striking twice: Its Cool Jean style became a cult favorite, with consecutive restocks rapidly selling out. Meanwhile, its logoed hat became a Swiftie uniform staple at a time when, it seems, everyone is a Taylor Swift fan.
In early October, after personally shopping the brand’s Elizabeth Street store, “buying a bunch of jeans and swooning over the hat,” Sonia Mosseri said, Swift was photographed wearing the accessory in NYC. It’s worth noting that “still here” is also a phrase repeated in Swift’s 2022 song “Karma.” As a result, the $45 hat sold out, with Swift fans taking to social media to share excitement about its accessibility. “It opened the door to all new customers,” and the store has seen “a lot more traffic” since then, Maurice Mosseri said.
He added, “Brand awareness is king, when it comes to having a small contemporary luxury brand. It’s very hard to break that barrier between being a small brand that has a cult following and achieving mass awareness.”
As for the Cool Jean, it’s “completely blown everything else we’ve ever done out of the water,” in terms of sales, he said. Sonia Mosseri owed its popularity to being the right product at the right time, considering its trendy low-waist silhouette and recognizable toggle closure. In addition, she credited the content strategy for the jeans, which included teasers leading up to the launch. Maurice Mosseri, meanwhile, cited the flywheel effect of the brand doubling down on marketing and content in the prior 18 months.
After selling out on the day it was released, the Cool Jean was restocked in 6-8 weeks, after which it sold out again, in 20 minutes. To answer the resulting 15,000-person waitlist, the brand paired a restock with a campaign featuring 14 influential women that was timed with the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend. The campaign resulted in 4 million social impressions and, despite a void of discounts, the brand’s holiday weekend sales increased 10x year-over-year.
For Still Here, storytelling is a priority, which was a factor in its recently adopted focus on direct-to-consumer sales. After launching as a wholesale business, selling through the likes of Barneys, the founders realized the opportunity to “control the brand narrative” when Covid forced DTC operations, Maurice Mosseri said.
Rather than a brag, of sorts, the brand’s name was inspired by denim’s longevity and the idea of staying true to the past. And the company’s focus on denim is personal: After Sonia Mosseri’s Jewish father and grandparents were forced out of Egypt and came to the U.S., her father was tasked with buying sized-up jeans that he could wear throughout years of school. They were eventually passed down to Sonia, which sparked her love for vintage jeans. Before co-founding Still Here, she had a small, rapidly growing business selling painted vintage jeans on Instagram and in NYC.
In the new store, the brand’s story is reflected in the salvaged details that pay homage to the space’s history. For example, before BraSmyth, it was home to Pilgrim Coffee House, which featured a white tile on the walls. White tile now anchors a room that Still Here has dedicated to denim tailoring.
“Everything in this space that wasn’t made for the space is sourced vintage,” Sonia Mosseri said.
Other key touchpoints for brand storytelling include Instagram, where the focus is on imagery the team is proud of, rather than high engagement. And the founders have proven they won’t waste an opportunity to highlight the brand’s differentiators for new shoppers — like, say, Swifties. Included in orders of the viral logo cap were postcards featuring brand details, as well as a logo tote bag and an exclusive discount code for Still Here denim.
For the store, Sonia Mosseri took on the role of the designer and production manager, leveraging learnings from the Nolita store to create an ideal space. Featured are three dressing rooms — one decorated with an original Saul Steinberg drawing for The New Yorker — as well as a coffee station and a “denim grid” allowing several stacks of denim to be arranged on a back wall. Instagrammable moments include a full-length, tri-fold mirror, as well as an old, rewired TV capturing “security camera footage” that visitors can use as selfies.
Whether Still Here, born downtown, will thrive in an uptown setting remains a question. To help get the word out, the brand hosted a launch party Thursday night, inviting “movers and shakers,” Sonia Mosseri said.
“We have big retail dreams,” she said. She noted that, beyond New York, the brand has large communities of shoppers on the West Coast, as well as in Texas, Boston and Chicago.