Los Angeles retailer Elyse Walker has opened the doors to her New York flagship on Madison Avenue at 74th Street.
The 4,000-square-foot store follows the smaller space she opened in November in TriBeCa, on North Moore Street.
Stocking her edit of designer and advanced contemporary pieces from Carolina Herrera, Jason Wu, Nili Lotan, Saint Laurent, Celine, Altuzarra, Bottega Veneta, Gabriela Hearst, Eterne, Sablyn and more, Walker’s nine brick-and-mortar stores are among the highest-performing multibrand fashion boutiques in the U.S., with close to $8,000 in sales per square foot in her Pacific Palisades, Newport Beach and Napa Valley locations (not counting stock room space).
Expanding east has been a homecoming for the native New Yorker, who was raised in retail in Scarsdale, New York. She started her career opening her own outpost of her family’s Capretto Shoes on Madison Avenue before moving west to build a fleet of multibrand luxury boutiques in California.
“I still have clients from my mom’s shoe store.…I used to help Sylvia Yasgur, and her in-laws owned Yasgur’s Farm,” she said of the Bethel, New York, dairy farm that hosted Woodstock in 1969. “Sylvia still shops with me. We’ve always had a following in New York because of my roots. In the early years, people would walk in the store in L.A. and recognize a New York sensibility. We opened with suiting, which was unusual being miles from the beach. Somehow we’ve kept that.”
Elyse Walker Madison
She’s been looking for a Madison Avenue location for 10 years. “When we started, Madison was falling down, but we still believed in it long term. Now it’s going up,” she said. “We’re surrounded in every direction by every fantastic monobrand, so we’re working on the Elyse Walker edit — our four favorite suits from Alex Perry, for example — Madison will highlight that more than any other store.” There’s also a sizable fine jewelry selection.
While other retailers may be item driven, Walker said she is styling-driven, meaning her selection is focused less on price points than creating the best head-to-toe looks.
“Our shoe business is very designer, but we always like to throw in a zinger, like Paloma Barcelo sandals, which most people have never heard of, or don’t see everywhere,” Walker said of the $395 average price point styles. “So why would you come to us for Saint Laurent or Celine or Gucci? Because you’re coming for our point of view, and second, we’ll take those blazers and mix them with Mother denim and put on a Gianvito Rossi pump, and then throw on a Staud bag.”
One of the secrets to her success has been her in-house Memo styling program; her 25 stylists account for 50 percent of total sales, often selling clients merchandise before it even hits the floor or the web.
“When we have funding and room for growth, we could have 300 stylists,” Walker said, adding that one of her best ones works remotely out of state.
Elyse Walker Madison
“We’ve been looking for a growth partner,” she said, adding that her Towne stores, which are 1,500 to 2,500 square feet, selling mostly denim, T-shirts and sneakers, are also under realized and could be in every high-end neighborhood, from The Hamptons to South Miami.
“We’ve been approached by a lot of amazing people,” she said of potential investors. “Sometimes their weaknesses are ours, and I’m looking for someone we can build off of. We’re getting close to our goal of $100 million in net sales. To get to that next few hundred million, it’s going to need to be someone who has done it before,” she said, acknowledging the unpredictable dealmaking terrain.
“When we went out in 2020 to raise, everyone was anti brick-and-mortar. Now everyone is pro brick-and-mortar because web business is soft, return rates are out of control and digital marketing costs grew exponentially. We’re newbies so we’re still testing all the waters…but it will happen; it’s like meeting your partner for life.”
She’s not looking for an exit, however. “In a perfect world, I’d love to work on branding and opening stores…and maybe be out of the CEO role one day.I love brand building, and working with designers new and old.”
Elyse Walker Madison
Walker believes in digital to support the stores and stylists, demurring when asked what percentage of her overall sales is coming from her new e-commerce business.
“One client value to us in our lifetime relationship is worth over $100,000 and a really good client is worth over $1 million.…We’re planting seeds for the next five or 10 years,” she said. “That kind of touch is different from online where you want to sell one unit to 100 people. We want to sell 100 units to one person over our entire relationship. And we work hard at it.’
Over the years, she has built a client database with more than 125,000 names, including many on the Upper East Side where she’s now open.
“We have sales in Chicago, Austin, Dallas, almost every state…Alaska, Minnesota. We love a good online sale but when that woman goes to New York City, we think she’s going to say, ‘Let’s check out Elyse’s new store.’”