Walking into Retail Lab on a Thursday afternoon I was prepared to see Timo Weiland labels on the Breton striped sweatshirts and plaid bomber jackets that were displayed in a corner of the Cadillac House in west SoHo; I was not prepared to run into Timo himself. Weiland and his partners-in-fashion Alan Eckstein and Donna Kang are offering menswear and womenswear, eyewear (provided in partnership with Zenni Optical), and tableware (provided in partnership with Vista Alegre) in a personalized retail environment that incorporates furniture that Eckstein has found over the years at estate sales. The space offers customers a taste of the Timo Weiland lifestyle—and the plate to eat it off of. Fashion designers, like novelists, are responsible for creating a world in which you want to spend time — and money.
Designers carefully consider their advertising campaigns, retail spaces, runway shows or presentations, and Instagram feeds because they are all opportunities to use the visual cues of fashion to communicate with —and pitch to— a hopefully expanding audience. Ad campaigns and boutiques in trendy high-traffic neighborhoods are prohibitively expensive for many emerging designers. Launched by the CFDA and Cadillac, Retail Lab offers talented designers the opportunity to create an upscale retail environment that shares a story, told by carefully selected merchandise, with consumers. Timo Weiland is quick to point out that a retail store also allows his team to meet customers.
“It’s great to interact with customers on a face-to-face level rather than e-commerce when you never know if it’s the husband, or wife, or best friend that is buying for someone else,” Weiland said. “You are seeing people come in and shop for themselves, or for their friends.”
Interacting with his customers has allowed Weiland to observe how his customers act in a retail environment. He has noticed that men are as interested as women in looking good, but they tend to approach shopping differently.
“For men there is less time in the dressing room, and more time examining the merchandise,” Weiland said. “We have noticed that our female customer will make a wider selection, and go and try on everything. Whereas the guy will maybe put together a smaller assortment, but he will have edited before he gets to the dressing room.
Timo Weiland has found the Retail Lab experience, including mentorship from industry luminaries like Billy Reid, Derek Lam, Julie Gilhart, Simon Doonan, and Diane von Fürstenberg to be a huge learning experience and opportunity to grow.
“Experimenting with new categories: tabletop with Vista Alegre and optical with Zenni have been a real highlight of the Retail Lab for us, Weiland said. “Experimenting with these other categories and noticing how it can help us build a lifestyle business.
I got my first glimpse of the lifestyle Timo Weiland is offering at Retail Lab after viewing his latest men’s fashion show. A runway show is a frenetic environment, with photographers constantly jostling each other at the end of the runway as their cameras ceaselessly click, buyers making notes, and fashion journalists processing what they are seeing as the models saunter in synchronization down the runway. A season worth of sales is initiated in a 10-15-minute runway show. The catwalk itself is calm, as befits the eye of the storm. Models saunter with sangfroid that conceals the chaos backstage that they have just emerged from. Before you have fully gotten your bearings, the runway show is ended with a bow from the designer(s). Walking from the catwalk to the adjacent Retail Lab allowed me to consider the clothing—and suede backpacks that models clutched as they came down the catwalk—in a peaceful oasis that felt luxurious in this crazy city of sights, sounds, and strident smells.
And the merchandise? Timo Weiland takes a bold stance in a noisy retail environment where loud clothes compete against louder clothes to be bought by those who seem similarly concerned about projecting their voice. Timo Weiland’s clothing is quieter; which is to say that it knows it has a voice, but also knows that clothes don’t have to be loud to be loved. The sportswear is sporty in a way that doesn’t rely on loud colors, big logos, and over (or under) sized silhouettes.
Standouts for the men included a raglan-sleeved navy and white stripe pullover with a clever zippered pocket differentiated by vertical stripes. The pocket could fit your phone and wallet so that you could leave your bag at home. Should you find yourself opting for a bag to store your laptop and daily provisions, the Felix backpack in camel-colored suede and leather (also available in navy) was free of logos, flashy hardware, and extraneous gimmicks. It would look equally handsome on the back of a girl or boy about-town. A black option in twill and pony hair looked equally handsome and offered a nice textural contrast. The Felix is the first bag that Timo Weiland has launched.
“The Felix backpack has been a really big success,” Weiland said. “People have been loving it. It’s signature to us because it has this of scholastic prep look. It’s very modern and clean, but still has a classic prep look. This one in particular is luxurious. It is suede with leather, or twill with pony hair. It has just been really amazing to have in the store. For the first time we are running our own store. It’s the first bag we have offered. We toyed around and experimented with others in the past, but this is the first bag we have really launched.”
Although the Felix is competitively priced for a designer backpack, the affordable eyewear that Timo Weiland curated is equally appealing to the scholastic prep.
“Zenni Optical has been amazing as an optical partner,” Weiland said. “For the very first time we are doing eyewear. It has been a huge success in terms of sales. We have a really great product for a really great price. Our girl and guy can come in at any age, and if they want it they can buy it because they are really affordable. Which is great, and not always the case in New York.” The tableware from Vista Alegre is more aspirational, but the Christian Lacroix butterfly print that flutters across one setting is fashion froth at its most buoyant.
Timo Weiland call the Retail Lab home until September, and since Alan Eckstein and Timo Weiland DJ it seems fitting that they are planning to DJ parties in late August and September.