Retail Icon Louis Boston To Close

While The Shophound normally stays focused on New York City's retail scene, it would be hard for us to ignore the news which broke over the weekend that Louis Boston (always pronounced Loo-eee) would close at the end of the Spring season. The 90-year-old store, family owned over four generations, is reportedly not closing as a result of business challenges, but it is a casualty of the current real estate boom, a situation not foreign to New York retailers. A few years ago, Louis owner Debi Greenberg made the daring decision to move the store from its elegant home on tony Newbury Street to Fan Pier, a newly developing shopping area on Boston's southern waterfront. As it happened, the neighborhood took off, and now Louis is in the way of a new condo development. Though the developers promised a new store for her, Greenberg decided to retire early and shutter the business rather than move again. In a blog post on the store's website, Greenberg calls the closing the end of an era, and re-iterates to WWD that she couldn't imagine selling the store to someone outside the family since her daughter doesn't appear to be interested in carrying on the often grueling career of running a large, independent luxury store. “I don’t think I could bear it,” she says of the thought of someone else running the company, so the possibility of someone swooping in to save the store, like, for instance the folks at Connecticut's Mitchell's did to save San Francisco's similarly beloved Wilkes Bashford a few years ago, seems slim —at least for now.

New Yorkers may remember Louis somewhat less fondly from its short lived expansion here during the late 1980s when a splashy, much heralded store opened here at the corner of West 57th Street and Lexington Avenue. A combination of bad economic conditions and a somewhat off-base location doomed the lavish store which was filled with the kind of pricey, artisanal, hand tailored clothing from labels like Brioni, Kiton and Ermenegildo Zegna that, ironically are among the most coveted by menswear's current enthusiasts. Then owner Murray Pearlstein's predilection for a sophisticated, earthy color palette of mossy greens and browns also failed to persuade New Yorkers who remained devoted to classic black, navy and gray. Ultimately, many local shoppers took it as something of an affront that a store from Boston of all places would try to offer new styles in a city renowned as a fashion capital. In the end, it was our loss, as the kind of labels that Louis promoted then continue to sprout boutiques around the city today. In the intervening years back home in Boston, Louis has continued to evolve as Pearlstein's daughter Goodman took over, increased the women's business and brought a sharper, high fashion edge to the store, ultimately moving it to the starkly modern location (pictured above) that it is about to close. The store will leave a potent legacy, however. The late Murray Pearlstein is revered among menswear retailers, and credited for helping to introduce designers like Giorgio Armani, Luciano Barbera and other European designers to the American market. Designer Joseph Abboud started his career selling clothes at Louis, and another Pearlstein daughter, Nancy, owns and operates Relish, one of Washington DC's most influential boutiques. In the meantime, Louis fans have about six more months to shop at their favorite store. It may be worth a quick trip up to Boston just for posterity's sake.

Louis Boston to Close (WWD)


Workwear And Heritage Stores Take Root In L.A. At The Stronghold, Union Made, Civilianaire & RRL

Civilianaire3rdStClick all images for a larger view in a new window

Over the past few years, The Shophound, like everyone else, has seen a curiosity and interest in classic, American workwear and heritage brands blossom into a full-blown mania as once sleepy labels like Red Wing Shoes, Alden, Carhartt and Woolrich have become prized status brands among a certain set. We were interested to see how laid-back Los Angeles with its Goth-y, Rock & Roll tendencies had taken to the trend. It turns out that L.A. is looking more like a city that might be anxiously awaiting its own branches of Hickoree's Floor Two or Freeman's Sporting Club. In the meantime, the West Coast has grown its own practitioners of the trend which are scattered liberally across the sprawling city.

UnionmadeBrentwoodOne store we were widely encouraged to visit was the new branch of UNIONMADE (225 26th Street
Santa Monica, pictured at left), a San Francisco import that has opened a satellite location in the Brentwood Country Mart.
Yes, this hipster-inflected store chose one of the city's most suburban-feeling locations for its first foray outside the Bay Area instead of trendier Abbot Kinney in Venice or Third Street. The compact shop is surrounded in quaint shopping center by enough shops familiar to New Yorkers like Calypso, Intermix, Selima and Space NK, that we wouldn't ordinarily go out of our way to stop there, but we have been aware of Unionmade's reputation for a while. Not terribly unlike Steven Alan, the store has a carefully curated roster familiar brands, many of which are either recently revived or about to be. Exclusives are the order of the day including what would come to be the obligatory shelf full of custom styled, limited edition Alden shoes and a special collection by Northern California label Golden Bear. The store's windows betray its fashion insider credibility by being festooned with blown up sketches by Richard Haines, and the air inside is scented with an intoxicating, woodsy, campfire scent from a custom formulated candle by Baxter of California. After our visit, we were ready to take a trip north to San Francisco to check out the original, but we'll have to save that for another trip.

RRL-MelroseAnother store we wouldn't have bothered with in L.A. would be anything from Ralph Lauren, because, after all, don't we have the best of his stores here in New York? He is, not surprisingly, all over L.A., too but it took a couple of walks up and down Melrose Avenue to discover that what we thought was just a disused gas station next to The Improv had been cunningly converted into a RRL store (8150 Melrose Avenue, pictured at right). We have to give the tireless folks at Polo Retail credit for their smart, site specific store design that trades the "Ye Olde Haberdashery" look of the label's SoHo and Bleecker Street flagships for a cooler if no less dusty vintage garage aesthetic.

CivilianaireInsideOne of our favorite discoveries on Third Street was the year and a half old CIVILIANAIRE (8312 W. 3rd Street at near Sweetzer Avenue, pictured above, top and at left), a homegrown brand rooted in workwear basics including Japanese selvedge denim jeans and precisely cut khakis in bright, appealing fabrics. There's just enough retro details to make the line appealing without feeling excessively costume-y, and everything is made in California in time tested factories. It is a label that seems conceived for denim specialists, and can be found at Jean Shop and Atrium in New York, but we liked seeing the whole men's men's and women's collections as a retail concept on its own. We could easily see this store replicated in SoHo or the West Village —just sayin'...

TheStrongholdOf course, if costume-y is your thing, there's THE STRONGHOLD (1625 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice pictured at right), known for the selvedge denim jeans you might have seen at stores like Odin or Barneys Co-op. This brand, originally started in 1895 had been dormant for 55 years until its meticulous revival in 2004. The nostalgic store now features painstaking reproductions of vintage apparel with ready-made jeans around $295, and made to measure pieces starting at nearly $500. StrongholdShoes Such dedication doesn't come cheap. The store features other branded apparel and accessories, but will carry no label that wasn't active during during the brand's original early 20th Century run. That still leaves plenty of heritage brands eligible, and the shoe table (pictured at left) is crammed with every possible permutation of workboot and handsewn footwear from the likes of Red Wing, Alden, Wolverine, Russell Moccasin and other, even more obscure brands. Other labels like Filson, Pendleton and Stetson abound. The execution is impressive, even admirable, but, at this point in the heritage craze, it seems like the trend is starting to veer into self-parody (just have a look at The Stronghold's old-time nickelodeon-esque website). Perhaps the style is better taken in smaller doses, with a more eclectic point of view.


L.A. Shopping: Venice Edition
Guild, Bazar, Bountiful & Alternative

Last week The Shophound was M.I.A. from New York as we switched coasts for a week in sunn Los Angeles. While we were on vacation, we naturally spent a bit of time checking out L.A.'s retail scene because, well, what would a vacation be without some shopping?

For anyone used to New York's highly concentrated shopping neighborhoods, the thing that is different about L.A. stores is the same as what is different about the city itself. They sprawl, and unlike in our urban metropolis, where a prominent store might anchor a colony of 20 or 30 shopping establishments densely clustered together, in L.A, iconic retailers can sit alone, monolithically with only a parking lot in front and two or three related shops nearby. Everybody drives, and everything is its own destination.

That is not to say that there aren't a few areas with a well developed sidewalk culture. Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills is the obvious example, but The Shophound limited our attention there to a quick drive through, since all we found was versions of the same designer boutiques we have on Madison and Fifth Avenues. Another area where we found a more dense shopping strip was Venice's ABBOT-KINNEY Boulevard. It has developed a lot since we last visited about two and a half years ago, and felt a little bit like Bleecker Street did about 10 years ago. Does that mean that the bigger chains will start moving in GuildVenicesoon? Zoning might have something to say about it, and L.A.'s more abundant real estate keeps rents in most areas from skyrocketing and strangling pioneering, independent stores as severely they can in New York. All the same, Jack Spade has moved in already, and, of course, there's a Steven Alan, but most stores feel home grown, like GUILD (1335 ½ Abbot Kinney at right), which holds up the high fashion end of the neighborhood. The unassuming shop offers an international mix of labels for men and women from Belgium, France, Japan and beyond as well as hometown favorites like Rick Owens all blended to create the kind of luxe casual looks that L.A. can call its own. When we stopped in, we discovered two generations of a family shopping away enthusiastically —and spending freely. Guild is not cheap, but it is where Angelenos will buy harder to find labels like Nicolas Andrea Taralis, Haider Ackerman and Miharayasuhiro alongside stalwarts like Ann Demuelemeester.

BAZARveniceA few steps away, we found BAZAR (1108 Abbot Kinney at left), a store that typifies the way L.A. seems almost more obsessed with vintage than New York. Here you will vintage furniture, denim, accessories, boots and whatever other curiosities catch the store's owner's 1930's inspired eye. For those who like their clothes a little bit fresher, the store also carries a selection of vintage reproduction apparel from the local brand Mister Freedom that New Yorkers might recognize from seeing it in J.Crew's curated men's stores.

Sometimes the line between kitsch and vintage in L.A. can get very blurry as we found when we entered under the Hardware Store sign to find ourselves in BOUNTIFUL BountifulVenice(1335 Abbot Kinney at right), which is either a wonderland or the result of one highly discerning hoarder. With its counters piled literally to the ceiling with vintage style cake stands most prominently among the other glass and ceramic table and kitchenware, it seems more more like an installation than a workable retail environment, and the prices suggest that some items may not have as much charm when taken home and separated from their fanciful environment. Still, it's a sight to be seen, especially if you like cake stands.

AlternativeVeniceIntFinally, for a look at the kind of store that would be nearly impossible to replicate in New York, there's the beach bungalow that houses the ALTERNATIVE Flagship Store (1337 Abbot Kinney above top and at left). Inside are the kind of weathered jerseys and knits that make up a huge part of L.A.'s fashion industry, but with sections open to the street, and it's particular architectural setting, it would be a challenge to squeeze the ambiance into a shoebox sized space on, say Bleecker Street.


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.

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

The Shophound On The Road:

A Discovery Expedition To L.L.Bean

A couple of weeks ago, we got around to visiting Fjällräven, the Swedish expedition experts who have arrived in NoLita, which it got us to thinking about how it was basically a smaller, imported version of L.L.Bean, the venerable and beloved Maine outfitters.
As we found ourselves looking for a new pair of snow boots for what promises to be a stormy winter, our thoughts turned to the original New England institution itself. Since we happened to be out of town for the weekend and close to one of its few branch retail shops (There are now 13 outside the original Maine flagship, mostly located on the Northern part of the Eastern Seaboard), we decided that rather than order over the internet as most of their customers are likely to do these days, we would take advantage of the opportunity to buy them in person. As it happens, one of the first freestanding L.L.Bean stores opened a few years ago in Tysons Corner, Virginia, the suburban DC shopping mecca which, between its two immense malls, is home to just about any chain store you can name, including two (!) Macy's.
Beanboots_A Has L.L.Bean sacrificed its staunch Northeastern character to fit in at the mall? Thankfully, no. It is still paradoxically devoid of fashion yet bursting with style, and it may now be one of our very favorite stores.
Maybe it's nostalgia for our preppy youth, but there's something reassuring about that nearly century-old brand. Our new Bean Boots insulated with Thinsulate and Gore-Tex have promised to keep our feet dry and toasty throughout the snowstorms we are expecting in the next couple of months, which is a lot more than we could say about the clunky, old Timberlands we are discarding. It doesn't hurt that rugged, outdoorsy style has been undergoing a resurgence lately, but Bean has been making a variation of these boots for about 98 years. We are now hoping for a blizzard.
As for the rest of the store's apparel offerings, it's true, there is no shortage of Mom Jeans there, but high fashion and trends has never been what they are about. Bean's down jackets, an awfully respectable alternative to The North Face and Patagonia, start at a whopping $69. Pleasant surprises pop up all over the place. Bluchermocs_A The classic, handsewn Blucher Mocs which never go on sale on line were 35% off here (and remain at full price on the website). A stack of Scotch plaid shirts retailing for just under $30 each is made from a buttery soft brushed Portuguese flannel. They are more than a bargain when the hipster stores of Brooklyn have been pushing designer flannels for over $200. Not the same thing as Engineered Garments or the newly rejuvenated Woolrich and Pendleton? Well, of course not, but any stylish person knows the value of mixing in the high with the low, and if you have been having trouble pulling together this winter's pervasive lumberjack/longshoreman look within your budget (join the club), there are a lot of pleasingly affordable alternatives at L.L.Bean to pair with those pants you got at Odin a couple of months ago.
More After The Jump

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A Discovery Expedition To L.L.Bean" »

The Shophound In Los Angeles:

West Coast Wrap-Up

So we're back in a chilly, damp New York today, but our jet lagged mind is still in California so we're just going to finish up our little travelogue before we get back to our usual local posting. We might have written more along the way, but, hey, we were on vacation.<
As much as we appreciate the shiny glitz on Melrose, we found our favorite shops in Silverlake, where the national chains have yet to invade.
At the top of our list is the year-old boutique CONFEDERACY (pictured above). Being co-owned by "That 70's Show" star Danny Masterson would typically not be such a good sign for a fashion snob like The Shophound, but this is no TV star's side project. It's a serious store that offers at least one thing you won't find so easily in New York: space. The shop sprawls through several expansive rooms with women's in front featuring Proenza Schouler, Vena Cava and other young minded designers and Men's in the back where we were treated to the launch of an exclusive suit collection designed by Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes. If you can fit your slender frame into these immaculately tailored clothes, then it's worth a trip to LA just to pick one up for yourself. Extra fashion cred is provided by Masterson's business partner, stylist Ilaria Urbinati, and if the labels in the store might seem familiar, it's the distinctive mix that makes Confederacy a must on anyone's LA shopping tour. • 4661 Hollywood Boulevard, Silverlake
ReformschoolrulesLA Our other favorite find was REFORM SCHOOL, featuring handcrafted and independently produced items of all sorts from clothes to jewelry to toys TO artwork. Prices range from occasionally extravagant to extremely affordable, and he place would be our number one go-to gift shop if we lived on the other coast. • 3902 W. Sunset Boulevard, Silverlake
DeansilverlakeLA A few doors down Sunset, we stumbled upon DEAN, which takes your typical downtown leathergoods shop and injects a healthy dose of color and design to lift it out of its hippie haze. We found great bags and accessories in those familiar sturdy hides including an exceptional collection of belts and watches with handcrafted bands. • 3918 W. Sunset Boulevard, Silverlake
We still managed to hit a few famous LA stores that we had never seen in person. We had always thought that AMERICAN RAG Cie was just a big jeans and vintage store, but we weren't quite prepared for its breadth. One table might be piled with G-Star sportswear while the rack is hung with the latest Balmain and Rick Owens leathers. It's the sort of random mixing that had become familiar to us in LA, but American Rag also houses the mother of all denim shops, the World Denim Bar, whose exhaustive stock puts some of New York's so-called denim specialists (ahem, Atrium) to shame. On the other side, there's Maison-Midi, the company's new home division. • 150 S. LaBrea Avenue, West Hollywood
Is UNDEFEATED the LA's best sneaker store? You'd have to ask a real Angeleno for the definitive answer, but we were pretty impressed when we found them in Santa Monica. They have a carefully curated selection of kicks including some covetable, exclusive Adidas. Of their six locations, two are in Japan, which should give you some idea of their expertise. • 2654-B Main Street, Santa Monica and other locations
OpeningceremonyLA1 We were mostly uninterested in visiting any store we could find at home (and there are lots of them now) with a few exceptions like Paul Smith and the new OPENING CEREMONY we have heard so much about. It has the same elements as the original, but in a new mix with a few extras. In a building that once housed Charlie Chaplin's dance studio, there's more room, of course, divided into a series of interlocking rooms. Sadly, they were sold out of "Where The Wild Things Are" Max costumes, but we actually found the LA set-up to be easier to shop than the SoHo store which can sometimes seem a little claustrophobic. Upstairs, things are divided into designer shops not unlike the old 57th Street Bendel's including a special room devoted to Alexander Wang. Our LA friends were enthralled by the place, and so were we. • 451 North La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood OpeningceremonyLA2

The Shpophound In Los Angeles:

Record Stores...
Remember Those?

Please see pictured above an endangered species. A rare, surviving music store.
We've only lost our Virgin Megastores for a little while, but we already feel a bit of jealous nostalgia at Amoeba Music on Sunset and Ivar. It's no sleek CD palace. In fact, it's like a little independent record store on steroids with poster and flyer lined walls and a little stage for personal appearances and performances, but it looks like the only place to find any sort of marginally specialized music genre as well as used CDs and vinyl, which we are told is making a big comeback. Amoeba is an independent chain with three stores in Hollywood, San Francisco and Berkeley. Maybe they'd like to come East?
Amoeba Music 6400 Sunset Boulevard at Ivar Avenue, Hollywood

The Shophound In Los Angeles:

Meandering Down Melrose
At Maxfield, Fred Segal & More

So we're here in Los Angeles on vacation, but The Shophound is never really on vacation when there are bunches of stores around and we are in a strange new town. The last time we were in L.A. was about 10 years a go, and while some things have changed, a few things are the same. Drop us in the middle of West Hollywood, and we'll find our way to Ron Herman at Fred Segal by sheer instinct. We have a pair of Maharishi pants to remind us of the last time we were there, but how has the place held up after a decade?
We may not have caught the store at the best time, since they were going into their final clearance phase with a sidewalk sale and 50% off whatever was left, and 75% if you bought three pieces. Sale racks aside, we found the place to be mostly in its familiar mode of mixing sporty contemporary sportswear lines and denim downstairs with the more exclusive designer labels upstairs. The store still has a stellar lineup of labels (Margiela, Dries, Alexander Wang etc.), but many of the racks looked disturbingly sparse in places. Either they have already sold out of the best things, or their inventory was so tight that there just wasn't enough merchandise to properly fill the place up. It may well be a bit of both. The economy has hit L.A., and the extended writers' strike that preceded gave it a head start. There are lots of empty storefronts on Melrose.
If the goal of our shopping in L.A. is to find something we haven't seen in New York, Ron Herman succeeded with a selection of Comme des Garçons' Dover Street Market labeled sportswear and very California-ish limited edition line from Quiksilver among other things. If New York is stuck in a dark '80s revival rut, then L.A. stores give the look it a glossy West Coast sheen.PaulsmithmelroseLA Where they failed was when they let us wander through the store for 10, 20, then 30 minutes without once being approached or acknowledged in any way.
One thing that struck us about L.A. was how many more New York stores have opened West Coast outposts since our last visit. So why would we want to visit Paul Smith here when he has two perfectly good shops in Manhattan? Well, for starters, it's hard to resist that great big pink box on Melrose, and once inside, the cavernous space offers a pleasingly different experience cleverly tailored to its locale despite having essentially the same stuff we see at home. All that extra space, it turns out, makes a world of difference.
EvermelroseLA Of course there are also a few California based brands that have their own boutiques here, and its no surprise that a sporty label like Ever looks all the more appealing in its native environment.
It was further down Melrose, however where we found our first true shopping highlight. Cintra Wilson prepped us a few weeks ago in the Thursday Styles for our visit to Maxfield, one of L.A.'s signature stores. If any store can define the West Coast's peculiar blend of casual extravagance, it's this one. What can we say about a store that can successfully display shrunken heads and giant vintage Hermès Birkin bags within a few feet of each other? MaxfieldLA Plenty, aside from the fact that we were graciously welcomed into the store (are you listening Ron Herman?) and encouraged to peruse the place to our hearts content. Despite the shop's unmistakable California sense of style, there's lots there for any New Yorker to love, including lots and lots of black clothes. While the emphasis is on the progressive (Rick Owens, Balmain, Number (N)ine) there's enough Chanel to keep the slightly less adventurous quite happy. Of course, it's true that Maxfield is not for the limited of funds, but browsing is free and pretty easy.
Coming up: Silverlake and beyond.
Ron Herman at Fred Segal 8100 Melrose Avenue
Paul Smith 8221 Melrose Avenue
Ever  8251 Melrose Avenue
Maxfield 8825 Melrose Avenue, all in West Hollywood

The Shophound In Los Angeles:

Is There Something We Don't Know
About Johnny Cupcakes?

for the first time in more years than we'd care to say, taking a slightly early morning walk down Melrose (lot of empty storefronts, sadly) on our way to Ron Herman at Fred Segal (more on that later), and we see a bunch of people camping out in front of some closed storefronts at around 10:30 AM. We're used to seeing this sort of thing in front of A Bathing Ape in Soho, but LA's Bape is half a block away, and there's no line there. We learn that this camp-out is in anticipation of cult t-shirt maker Johnny Cupcakes' release of limited edition Halloween t-shirts tonight at 9 PM.
Johnny who?
You may recall that a few years a go, in the early days of The Shophound, while casting about for some links on a stormy day, we discovered the young brand, and frankly, that's the last time we though about it —until now. Apparently, the bakery-inspired tee designer has become quite the underground sensation since then, and now has two exclusive shops —the other's in Boston— which, aside from the brand's website, are the only place to get the now highly coveted brand.
We thought we were pretty well versed in such things, but, you see, this is why sometimes we have to leave town (even our own fabulous town) to discover new stuff. For those of you East Coasters, the event will be repeated tomorrow October 10th at the Boston Store, so you should literally get in line now if you are so inclined. Apparently, it's quite the scene.
Johnny Cupcakes 7959 Melrose Ave, West, Hollywood
Linkage For The Shut-In (6.7.06)