Phillip Salem was 23 years old when he decided to open a store. “Everyone told me I was crazy,” admits Salem, now 26. “Even my best friends told me I was nuts. But I didn’t let that stop me. When I graduated from F.I.T., I sat down with my dad and he asked me, ‘What’s next?’ I told him that I wanted to open a boutique in New York City. And he said if that’s what I wanted to do, then I had to write a business plan. So I went back to F.I.T. and took a course in business planning, wrote a business plan and made it happen.”
Salem opened Owen in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District in 2012, and just over a year later, the store is flourishing. However, he does confess that it wasn’t easy, especially trying to convince the brands he wanted to sell that he was legit. “I had to be aggressive…but in a nice way,” he says with a smile. “A lot of brands asked for letters of recommendation, photos of the store, financials…but we got them in!” Today Owen is home to designer brands like Phillip Lim, Acne, Carven and Stephan Schneider and is 70/30 women’s to men’s.
And while his roster is strong, it’s still worrisome that some of these designers are opening their own stores in the same highbrow neighborhood. “It’s actually something I was just talking about with my boyfriend last night! It definitely makes things harder, but our edit and store vibe is what creates customer loyalty. We give our clients a great experience when they’re here. We sell expensive clothes: no one needs what we carry, but it’s the experience that makes it worth it.”
The vibe at Owen is upbeat and super fun. “But you can never have an off day,” admits Salem. “Of course there are days when everything that can go wrong does, but when a customer comes in, you have to forget what you’re dealing with and turn it on for them. We love to style our customers and have a good time with them. We’ll have lunch catered, offer champagne and cupcakes. Whatever it takes to give them an incredible experience.”
The 1,800 sq. ft. store is beautiful, and like the nearby Highline park, has an industrial feel. The walls are lined with 25,000 brown paper bags. “And they’re all fire coded!” he laughs. “I’ve had people come in to check that. I actually opened each bag myself!”
The edit at Owen is street-chic. “Basics don’t sell; my male customer is looking for something wearable but special. We offer a mix of brands with a cult following and sprinkle in some hard-to-find labels. Current best menswear brands are Acne, Phillip Lim and Lou Dalton.
So what’s next for Owen? E-commerce, of course, which is set to go live in October. Salem is also just finishing his spring 2014 buy (much of which is done in Paris, the rest in New York), and says footwear will be a new category from brands like Alejandro Ingelmo and Raf Simons. Finally, he’s excited about the continuation of athletic-inspired looks, floral and embroidered details, and leather, all current best-selling trends that he expects will continue.
Owen: (owennyc.com) 809 Washington Street, New York