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Can L.A.'s Fred Segal Be Replicated In New York ...Or Anywhere Else?

How convenient that just as The Shophound arrived in sunny Los Angeles, WWD announced that Fred Segal, the quintessential California retailer, had sold the rights to its name, intellectual property and brand extensions to New York based company called Sandow Media. The new steward of the brand promised new product lines, a revamped web presence (much needed) and an international expansion program including new stores in New York, Miami, Las Vegas and the shopping capitals of Europe and Asia.

More Fred Segal could only be a good thing, right? Over the past month we have asked many of the industry professional we cross paths with which stores we should be seeking out on our trip to L.A., and among the many they recommended, every one said, "You're going to Fred Segal, right?".

Hey, give us some credit. We have always held the store in high regard since our first visit in the late 1990s, but we have to admit that we were really only familiar with the West Hollywood branch that is mostly taken over by Ron Herman's renowned boutique. For anyone not familiar with the way Fred Segal's business concept works, it is not the kind of luxury boutique we are used to with a leading merchant and singular point of view, but rather an amalgam of separate departments each run independently by what WWD calls "employee-owners" that range from couture to cafes to beauty boutiques to home furnishings and a yoga studio all under the same roof with many incorporating the Fred Segal name into their stores. There is Fred Segal Trend, Fred Segal Man, Fred Segal Finery, The Parliament at Fred Segal and so on and so forth, each a separate business with what appears to be an unwritten rule that no vendor will be repeated from one department to the next in the same location. Ron Herman is the rare exception who has other locations outside of the Fred Segal umbrella. Most of the operators seem happy to trade on their landlord/partner's name and benefit from its legendary draw.

Over the weekend, we made it a point to finally take a look at the original Santa Monica Fred Segal complex on two corners of Broadway and 5th Street. We were expecting something similar to the Melrose Avenue store that we were familiar with, but instead found a deceptively sprawling complex not unlike the city of Los Angeles itself with one shop/neighborhood leading into another with a similar but slightly different character and each presenting a carefully curated mix of familiar and independent brands formulated to make a its own fashion statement. It is also marked by excellent sales staffs. When one skilled associated expressed interest in the Burkman Brothers shirt we were wearing, he smoothly led us over to another made by a Japanese brand we had never seen before that he thought we would appreciate, and had we been in a free-spending mood, we would have instantly snapped it up and asked him to show us everything else he thought we might like. He had a laid-back, but sharply observant style of selling that fits Southern California well and offers a welcome contrast to the kind of over-eager, in-your-face attention we find all too often even in some of New York's more rarefied stores.

After wandering through the fascinating maze of shops, we thought we had seen the whole thing, only to discover that there was another, even larger complex across the street, and we began to understand why Fred Segal has been held in such regard for over 50 years. The two buildings total 42,980 square feet and contain 31 separate establishments seamlessly combined. We have never seen a store that successfully synthesizes this kind of merchandising concept at such a high luxury level over such a broad range of products. It is the kind of place that has obviously evolved over the years to serve a particular customer base and community which makes us wonder exactly how the brand's new owner will be able to reproduce anything close to it in new, often international locations. Sandow Media has plans to leave the iconic ivy-covered L.A. stores as they are, but to create new Fred Segal branded product lines and establish a consistent store format that will be followed in all planned branch locations. We wonder if new versions of the store will wind up focusing on new branded merchandise rather than the quirky collection of shops that made the name famous over the years. Will that impress customers who know the store from visits fo California? The first Fred Segal branch store opened under Sandow is expected sometime next year in a location yet to be announced, so we won't have to wait too long to see how the new owners will interpret the famous name for new markets. As much as we would love to see a version of the amazing Santa Monica complex appear somewhere in New York, we would be pleasantly surprised to see its unique collection of small, separate but like-minded retailers successfully re-created clear across the country. If Sandow can engineer such an expansion, then we and a lot of other people will be very impressed indeed.

Fred Segal 420 & 500 Broadway, Santa Monica
and 8118 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, California
Fred Segal’s New Deal by Lisa Lockwood (WWD)


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