Velvet Opens Its 1st Stores

Velvet by Graham & Spencer helped launch the high-end T-shirts category when the company opened in 1997. But since then, the brand has expanded to become a lifestyle collection for men and women.

On May 29, the Culver City, Calif.–headquartered company opened its first branded boutique at 13020 San Vicente Blvd. in Los Angeles’ exclusive Brentwood neighborhood. Its neighbors are contemporary stores Intermix and Scoop.

In August, Velvet is scheduled to open another boutique on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the popular shopping street in Los Angeles’ Venice section.

Velvet Chief Executive Officer Henry Hirschowitz said the more than $50 million company, which wholesales to 1,000 specialty stores domestically, took a gamble on opening its first branded boutiques because the economy was improving just as the company was looking to raise its profile. “It adds to the branding,” Hirschowitz said.

Velvet will open five shop-in-shops in Bloomingdale’s later this year, but Velvet will take its time before it opens more branded stores.

“We want to get the first two stores under our belt,” Hirschowitz said. “We’re cautious. We’re not going to roll out hundreds of stores. A calculated rollout is possible over a period of time.”

Hirschowitz forecasts the branded stores will make $1,000 per square foot in annual sales. He said 25 percent of Velvet’s business comes from abroad and the company also might open an overseas store in the future.

High-end basics labels such as James Perse and Splendid have already opened popular branded boutiques. Independent multi-line retailer Diane Merrick once retailed all of these brands at her self-named shop, Diane Merrick. She called Velvet a terrific brand and forecast the stores will be a great success. But she cautioned that branded stores too close to their independent retailers can impact the boutique business.

“Consumers would find a better selection of James Perse at a James Perse store,” Merrick said. “It’s hard for an [independent] retailer.”