John Elliott opens fifth store on Madison Avenue
Prepping to christen his fifth John Elliott store has taught the LA-based designer the fluidity of a store opening.
“We are definitely trying to get it open for New York Fashion Week, but the reality is we probably won’t make that date as it’s taking a bit longer. This store is in an older building with a board,” he said during a phone interview in mid-August.
The designer, whose brand launched in 2012, has experienced soft and steady growth post-pandemic, marked by a deep commitment to physical retail. FashionNetwork.com spoke with Elliott in late August about his latest retail venture on the Upper East Side and the various outposts.
Pre-pandemic, the brand opened its first flagship store close to its Southern California roots, on Melrose Place next to the iconic multi-brand store Maxfield.
“It was a roll of the dice as we knew that street was destination shopping, but it was immediately profitable,” said Elliott, adding it lent itself to understanding the full range of the collection in a dedicated space. “It was a novel experience for the hard-core customers; it garnered a cult-like following, and the men’s store became like a pilgrimage. It outperformed our expectations.”
The brand had its share of challenges through the pandemic, but Elliott saw the forest through the trees.
“We started to look in New York City and scout Soho before the pandemic. The landscape had totally changed with the pandemic. Our online data showed the largest concentration of customers was in New York City,” he continued. As the pandemic ushered in permanent store closures leaving behind landlords ready to make a deal, the designer struck.
“We got a deal. I won’t bet against New York City and the data.”
Even before Soho opened in September 2021, Elliott was looking towards Madison Avenue.
“When looking in at Soho post-pandemic, we saw a positive shift in seeing who left and who came in. When a district turns over, it can allow a fresh, exciting sprout of new businesses,” he said. Those businesses which survived are what Elliott referred to as "institutions in an important U.S. shopping neighborhood."
“Making a trek downtown is not an appealing proposition to them,” he added.
The 2,500-square-foot store located at 853 Madison was designed by architect Stephen Wiemer who designed the previous four, and boasts 50 feet of storefront along the pivotal stretch of the avenue between 70th and 71st street. Following the style of prior locations, the store combines zen-like natural settings and a mid-century modern aesthetic with touch of the brand’s ‘Bauhaus’ approach.
Unique to the store is an assortment of accessories that includes Italian-made modular leather bags, fine jewelry in collaboration with cult Japanese brand M.A.R.S. and the debut of John Elliott furniture—a custom-made half-moon sofa and lounge chair made from iron and resin— which was made for a seating area.
Summer 2022 marked the opening of store number four in Aspen and a memorable Paris debut. Elliott grew up in and lived in San Francisco until 2006 and heard that friends and colleagues were leaving the Bay Area and Los Angeles for the tony Rocky Mountain resort town.
“I have visited Aspen six times and was always blown away by the beauty and seasonality. It’s a small town feel with offering a world-class experience,” he raved.
Experiencing the lifestyle of the Aspen client also offers Elliott a chance to explore the range of the line.
“It opens a portal in the brand to be creative about their needs. We can push the limits and test more products there,” he explained, adding that he would even consider collaborating with a technical ski brand.
According to a brand release, the Colorado location currently offers “artisanal leather pieces, Japanese denim, Los Angeles-made sportswear, an Italian-made footwear program, and Italian tailoring” in men’s and women’s styles. The women’s division was launched in 2018.
Understanding the seasonal customer mindset also occurred with the opening of the Miami store in March of 2021, which on a personal level, was a bit of an eye-opener as it was before widespread vaccines. Elliott was surprised to witness the tropical town in pre-pandemic mode with lines of fifty deep outside of nightclubs.
He was pleased with his Miami Design District positioning, which has him sharing a wall with Stone Island, a brand that could attract a similar customer.
“That area is ripe for discovery. Fifty percent of the people that walk in might not have heard of the brand,” he observed.
The location is ripe for store exclusives with events like Art Basel Miami Beach. Both climates were conducive to the brand.
“During the pandemic, we realized the John Elliott wardrobe lent itself to comfort and ease. We do the LA style quite well.”
This past June, Elliott returned to the runway with his collection, the first time since 2019, for his first live show in Paris. He chose an iconic location, atop the Centre Pompidou, for an al fresco runway show. The designer noted the space lent itself to their store designs: concrete, glass, and steel with some Bauhaus principles thrown in, not to mention stellar views of Paris.
“It was lucky to do the show up there. We are looking toward international expansion, and the show was important to be taken seriously as a global brand. Our wholesale is growing in Europe, but we need to introduce ourselves to the consumer,” he said.
Elliott, a former basketball player, founded his brand on a concept that a college friend used to say. The friend said that success was being able to wear basketball shorts while not playing the game. It could also be noted that designer success is a fashion show on a Parisian landmark and a string of retail stores across the country, which are a window into the label.
“With each door you open, you learn more about your product and customer; it’s been really eye-opening, especially surprising for the women’s collection,” Elliott said.
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