Kitson Enters the Men's Biz

For Fraser Ross, retail is becoming a family affair.

Ross built a more-than-$18 million business from mixing celebrity and premium denim at his Kitson boutique on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles, which he opened in 2000. His premium store for children, Kitson Kids, debuted in July. And by August, he’ll open a 3,000-square-foot boutique at 146 N. Robertson Blvd., currently a furniture store called Japanache. Ross’s store will be called Kitson Men.

With the trio of stores, Ross said he’s well on his way toward grasping a brass ring for his business. “We’ve become a brand,” he said.

The brand name has already gotten off to a running start by selling footwear. Since November, his store has sold a Kitson brand of sneakers, and last week his company started wholesaling them across the United States and at such overseas retailers as France’s Galeries Lafayette.

Ross also hoped that his stores’ well-recognized name will attract families with the means to buy $300 pairs of jeans for each member of the family.

The new Kitson Men store will offer an expanded selection of the premium denim, shirts and outerwear currently sold in a 300-square-foot space at the main Kitson boutique. The racks in the store will carry $1,200 Great China Wall sports blazers, $145 AG T-shirts and $285 Stitch jeans.

Ross said the store should earn $3.5 million in its first year of business. “Jeans are $300, so it won’t take long to add up,” he said.

While plans for the boutique deacute;cor have not been finalized, Kitson Men will have a similar celebrity pizzazz as the original store, but, “it won’t have such a hectic atmosphere,” Ross said.

Once the men’s store opens, the original Kitson will be reserved for women’s clothing, accessories, gifts and beauty products.

Kitson has hosted parties for such stars as Justin Timberlake. And the boutique also has been a required stop for paparazzi hunting for a snapshot of Paris Hilton or Jessica Simpson. But perhaps more important than celebrity, Ross has a knack for distilling what famous actors and musicians are wearing and making it available to the public, said Chrystal Meers, the Los Angeles editor for shopping Web site

“I think he’s just paying attention,” Meers said. “He’s also able to jump on trends with speed. If you see a picture of [actor] Sienna Miller, and she’s wearing a crochet sweater, it often becomes a celebrity-driven product that is available to the public through Kitson.”

Kitson Men will open at a time when men’s fashion boutiques are growing in popularity. In the past few years, a handful of men’s contemporary boutiques, such as J. Ransom, Lisa Kline Men and Apartment 9, have opened in Los Angeles. Fred Levine, co-owner of the M.Fredric boutiques, has opened eight M.Fredric Men boutiques in Los Angeles County since July.

“I’m shocked at the high percentage of men who shop at our stores,” Levine said. “I thought it was going to be women shopping for men, or the loyal M.Fredric customer shopping for her boyfriend, husband or son.

Instead, nine out of 10 customers are men, especially in the suburbs. I didn’t expect the hip dad to shop. That’s our best customer. He might not have been buying [contemporary clothes] because [those kind of] stores have not been at his fingertips.”

The popularity of shopping for men has increased nationwide, said Paco Underhill, an expert on consumer behavior and author of “Call of the Mall.”

“Younger men who came of age [during the rapid growth of] the shopping mall are eminently more comfortable in a shopping environment than their fathers are,” Underhill said from his New York office.

Market researchers have found that men increasingly have spent more money on fashion in the past few years. According to the NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.–based market research company, men spent $49.4 billion on clothes in 2004, compared with $46.9 billion in ’03. Women, however, are still spending more, according to NPD, which found that they spent $94.5 billion on clothes in ’04, compared with $90.1 billion in ’03.

Banking on contemporary

Men’s contemporary may be a category that remains popular on the market, and Ross has shown that he is particularly skillful with riding long-term trends.

He ran a boutique in Toronto before tiring of the cold weather and moving to Los Angeles in 2000. He also wanted to get involved with a retail market where contemporary clothes could be sold all year instead of six months a year, as was the case in Canada, he said.

By 2003 Ross had hit his stride. He bought heavily into burgeoning trends such as Von Dutch streetwear, mukluk footwear and California’s continuing love affair with premium-denim. True Religion Brand Jeans was an early premium-denim find for Ross.

One reason why Kitson became popular with celebrities, Ross said, is that it is located a few storefronts down from The Ivy, a popular Hollywood hangout that attracts A-list celebrities.

Ross said that a more concrete reason for success, however, is that his store is located several minutes away from such high-end hotels in Beverly Hills as the Four Seasons and L’Ermitage.

“It’s those luxury hotels that really draw the business,” he said. “If you’re spending $800 per room, it’s nothing to drop $500 on a cashmere hoodie.” (The standard price per night for a room at the Four Seasons is $395 and L’Ermitage’s nightly rate is $495, according to the hotels’ Web sites.)

Celebrity and a good location are just two parts of Kitson’s continued success, Ross said.

“You must stock sizes besides size 2, and you got to make the atmosphere different,” he explained. “It’s part of the entertainment value of the store.”