Piperlime, Gap Inc. (GPS:US)’s online-only fashion boutique, is replicating its website in the real world with its first physical store next week as the biggest U.S. specialty-apparel company looks to spur growth in North America.
The 4,000-square foot store, set to open Sept. 6 in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, is designed to evoke the 21st- century sensation of walking into Piperlime.com.
The store’s designer wear is grouped by trends such as “Color Clashing” and “Wear the Pants,” while the top 10 seasonal fashions from Piperlime.com are displayed on a wall. Pages such as “Girl on a Budget” and picks from stylist Rachel Zoe have turned into racks. The store will have more than 800 items, including shoes, clothing and jewelry at prices from $49 to $600, Jennifer Gosselin, the brand’s general manager, said while giving an exclusive tour of the store Aug. 29.
“In terms of experiencing the brand, it’s the difference between having a relationship over e-mail versus one in person,” Gosselin said. “It really does come to life here.”
Giving Piperlime a brick-and-mortar presence is a new move for Gap, which has called the unit its fastest-growing online property. While the San Francisco-based company also has been building stores for Athleta, its formerly online- and catalog- only active-wear brand, Piperlime is different because it doesn’t have its own label and instead combines third-party merchandise with style advice.
“Brands are brands because they have relationships with their customers,” Gosselin said on the tour. “If you think about having a relationship, it needs to be in a 3D world, it can’t just be on the screen.”
Gosselin declined to comment on whether Gap is planning additional Piperlime stores.
Piperlime, introduced by Gap in 2006 as an online shoe store following the success of Zappos.com, hangs items from Kate Spade and BCBG Max Azaria alongside merchandise from lesser- known labels such as Tinley Road, giving customers a chance to discover new names in a boutique-like environment as they do on the Web, Gosselin said. The store carries 15 denim brands, including Levi’s and Citizens for Humanity, in 76 colors from classic indigo to patterns of floral tapestry and snakeskin.
A curved shoe wall with built-in shelves weaves through the middle of the store, showcasing boots, heels and handbags. Shoppers can relax on couches and benches surrounding painted- white pillars and use touchscreens and a computer to browse Piperlime’s website, receiving free overnight shipping on items unavailable in-store.
Four large fitting rooms are outfitted with three-way mirrors, and Gosselin says Piperlime store associates will be trained to gauge how much assistance customers may need.
The store echoes the online experience with pieces of Piperlime.com’s “wit and whimsy,” as Gosselin called it: a mannequin sits on a chair 12 feet above the ground, oversized spherical lights hang above the shoes, and lime green park benches and plastic pigeons dot the space.
Piperlime and Athleta increased (GPS:US) sales 22 percent to $301 million in the year ended Jan. 28, accounting for 2.1 percent of Gap’s revenue. They represent Gap’s growth prospects in North America, with global sales from Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic stores as well as its wholesale revenue declining 2.8 percent to $13 billion in that period.
Success at Piperlime physical stores may add to a turnaround at Gap’s older brands that has boosted the shares 95 percent this year to $36.11 yesterday, the highest closing price since Aug. 1, 2000.
Piperlime’s opening is timed to coincide with New York’s Fashion Week, when many retailers keep doors open until 11 p.m. and offer celebrity and designer appearances, styling seminars and special offers on merchandise. Zoe and Olivia Palermo, another guest fashion editor for Piperlime, will be at the store.
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