Glossy+: Inside Prabal Gurung's foray into physical retail

Prabal Gurung opened the doors of his first store to the press this week, in step with the introduction of a retail strip in New York City's West Village that he helped to shape.

In doing so he joined a long list of brand founders turning to both physical retail and an emerging retail model to get closer to customers. Shopping malls, in their traditional form, are out; in their place are lifestyle centers and concept shops.

“I’ve always dreamed of having a store — a place where we would manifest our brand ideals into a beautiful physical space,” Gurung told Glossy. “As we approach the 10th anniversary [of the brand], now felt like the time to do this.”

Ready to pull the trigger on a store, he reached out to New York Fashion Week mainstay and real estate consulting firm Skylight for advice. At the time, Skylight was in talks with real estate investor Brookfield, which had just purchased seven vacant storefronts on New York’s Bleecker Street.

Skylight creative strategist Chelsea Mullen said she and her team had seen Brookfield’s buy as an opportunity to adapt their usual practice of finding a creative use for an abandoned space for a larger-scale corridor. Based on Gurung’s subsequent interest, they proposed to Brookfield the idea of a retail environment–slash–cultural experience featuring several brands entering the physical space. In May, Brookfield signed on for the project, now named Love, Bleecker.

“We're really thinking of it as: How to combine the retail community of a Barneys with the visual inspiration of the Whitney — two great New York institutions,” she said.

Love, Bleecker is planned for one year, and each featured brand has started with a six-month lease with an option to extend.

Typically focused on events and experiences, it’s Starlight’s first foray into retail — though it’s not a far leap. “It’s  was just us reacting to a changing real estate landscape,” Mullen said. “Retail is challenged in a way it hasn't been challenged in the past, and brands are realizing the importance of a physical space and using it to communicate the brand messaging beyond: Here are my products. Experiences can speak volumes.”

Each brand was paired with an artist, who custom created an installation for the store. Performers including jazz trios and folk singers play in the street on a regular basis, and a scent custom created for the area adds to the distinction. The overall experience is meant to call to mind the street’s heyday, which Gurung remembers well.

“When I first moved to New York, [Bleecker Street] was the center of art, music, culture and subculture,” Gurung said. “I also had my first job on Bleecker Street, at Cynthia Rowley. Along with the partners, we really want to restore Bleecker to the spirited block it once was.”

Other featured retailers include Bonberi & Fleurotica, best described as a bodega for Whole Foods fans, and Slightly Alabama, a leather goods designer with a workshop on-site.

For Gurung’s part, he wanted to offer his customers, who have been demanding an opportunity to shop IRL, access to his full collection, from slogan hoodies to sequin gowns. Also included are a range of cashmere pieces by female artisans in Nepal and an Atelier salon offering bespoke services.

“The store is allowing us to have a dynamic conversation,” Gurung said. “With it, we get to share our story, showcase our values, and fit into different lifestyles and needs.”

His plans include collaborating with neighboring brands on a variety of events, from a speaker series featuring inspiring women to gallery-style exhibits to trunk shows. Each event will be broadcast live over the brand’s social channels, allowing those outside of NYC to partake. In addition, new, exclusive and limited-edition product will be dropped in-store each month as a means to keep visitors coming back.

“In the first week, we surpassed our monthly sales goal,” he said, noting his overall goal for the space: “We absolutely want to see engagement in the store translate to more sales for our digital flagship. That will always be a focus.”

Cynthia Rowley's DTC strategy: Opening new stores in emerging developments
On Thursday, 30 -year-old fashion brand Cynthia Rowley opened its 15th new store this year, in New York City’s Seaport District. The decades-old commercial hub, located in Lower Manhattan, has been seeing a revitalization since mid-June, when real estate development company Howard Hughes Corporation acquired a one-block portion based at its entrance.

“We want to be in areas that are new and exciting, and can introduce our brand to a new group of consumers,” said founder and designer Cynthia Rowley of her physical retail strategy. She said the main objective is customer acquisition, which ties to the company’s broader plans: “We’re seeing great traction with our ability to speak to consumers both digitally and in our own stores, so direct will continue to be a big priority for us going forward.”

Other Cynthia Rowley stores opened this year include a location in Newport Beach’s Lido Marina Village and one in Georgetown’s M Street. Rowley said they’re a mix of long-term stores and “nomadic retail” — her term for stores with shorter or more flexible leases, entered based on e-commerce data that her customer is close by. Current wholesale partners include Shopbop and Revolve.   

“[Owned] stores give us a platform to create events and special customer experiences that bring the brand to life,” Rowley said. Her Newport Beach and Montauk stores, for example, have hosted surf camps. The new Seaport District location features exclusive collaborations with brands including Goop, Bandier and Greats, plus there’s a natural beauty and wellness section with a selection of products.   

Since Howard Hughes Corporation signed on, the Seaport District has seen the opening of 10 Corso Como, the first U.S. location of the fashion-art store concept started in Milan, as well as a permanent SJP Collection store and a Roberto Cavalli pop-up. Meant to be a “port of discovery,” the area also features Pier 17 — an entertainment venue featuring restaurants, bars and a concert space — as well well as an iPic Theater and an expansive food hall.

The location plays perfectly into the brand’s long-standing focus on adventure, said Rowley, “The beautiful setting makes it as close to being on vacation as you can get in Manhattan,” she said.

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