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Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023
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One-of-a-Kind Boutiques Find Growth Comes Easier in Pairs

Local high-end clothing boutiques are taking a cue from their movie star clientele they’re cashing in with sequels.


Boutiques that have recently opened new stores or have new locations in the works include Belle Gray, Lisa Kline, Planet Blue and Kitson. Much of their merchandise has been purchased by the likes of Jessica Simpson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Lindsay Lohan.


“We would like to brand ourselves in other areas,” said Kathy Shawver, general manager of Belle Gray, which sells jeans that top $250 and has opened a second location in Calabasas.


Belle Gray was mentioned on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” as one of Hollywood’s go-to closet fillers. It doesn’t hurt that the store’s owners are married television actors Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin of, respectively, “Days of Our Lives” and “L.A. Law” fame.


Appearing in glitzy magazines makes retailers like Belle Gray a known commodity, even to Calabasas residents who haven’t shopped at the original store. Shawver projects that the Calabasas location will gross $2.5 million in its first year, around that of the original Sherman Oaks store.


Meanwhile, Kitson is opening a store across from its original Robertson Boulevard location aimed at the 12-and-under crowd, while Planet Blue, located in Malibu, has a store opening this August in Venice.


It’s not as if second stores are a sure bet for boutique owners. Kelly Herz, co-owner of Beige on Beverly Boulevard, will not open another location in Los Angeles because she believes the area is oversaturated.


“It is really hard to find a good location in Los Angeles,” said Herz, who said she would consider a second store in San Diego, where there still might be room.



True Believers


In a move reminiscent of True Religion Apparel Inc.’s reverse merger into a defunct mining company, Jeantex Inc. has been gobbled up by Huntington Beach-based Lexor Holdings Inc., which is listed on the OTC Counter Bulletin Board and divested its spa business two years ago.


The acquisition wasn’t a true reverse merger, in which a private company folds into a publicly traded shell company and management of the private concern runs operations.


It’s more of a hybrid, with Lexor Chief Executive Henry Fahmin operating the newly merged company, called Jeantex Group. It’s issuing 56.4 million new shares to capitalize on the popularity of L.A. fashions and expand the brand.


“It is a very strategic move. We have a lot of smaller players out there, but few have been able to use the public market to go to the next level,” said Fahmin.


Fahmin wants to ramp up Jeantex’s portfolio by adding at least two more apparel companies. He said private equity funding has been secured to expand Jeantex, but declined to name any firms.



Dutch Case


Von Dutch Originals LLC, the Los Angeles-based apparel company behind the trucker hat trend, has accused its former head designer of raking in kickbacks totaling millions of dollars.


In a suit filed last month by Von Dutch in Los Angeles Superior Court, Von Dutch is demanding $3 million in compensatory damages, as well as punitive and exemplary damages.


In court filings, Von Dutch claims that Christian Audigier, the company’s head designer from 2002 to 2004, was inflating the cost of goods purchased by Von Dutch from its suppliers. Audigier then received kickbacks in return for hiking the price.


Von Dutch contends that Audigier used the money to start a competing business called Don Ed Hardy, which has a store on Melrose Avenue. Audigier declined to comment on the case.


While at Von Dutch, Audigier received a salary of $180,000, plus a commission totaling 2 percent of sales, the suit says. Von Dutch says Audigier was paid more than $1 million per year even without the alleged kickbacks.



Crazy Chicken


Irvine-based El Pollo Loco Inc. is on the menu and could be bought for $340 million.


New York-based American Securities Capital Partners LLC is considering offers for the chain of 322 chicken eateries, according to TheDeal.com. American Securities has a 94 percent stake in El Pollo Loco, which it from Spartanburg, S.C.-based Advantica Restaurant Group Inc. for nearly $130 million. Centre Partners Management LLC, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, is among the firms believed to be vying for the chain.


El Pollo Loco began adding units east of the Mississippi River last year. A big question wiil be whether to continue the chain’s expansion beyond its West Coast core business.



*Staff reporter Rachel Brown can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 224, or by e-mail at

rbrown@labusinessjournal.com

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