Esprit Opens New SoHo Pop-up, Plots Fashion and Retail Direction

Beloved ’80s-era fashion brand Esprit, which is in the midst of a return to the U.S., has opened a new pop-up shop on Greene Street in New York’s SoHo.

The 3,000-square-foot retail location taps into Esprit’s colorful heritage with Memphis Design terrazzo patterns, a curation of vintage items and archival catalogues, alongside new campaign imagery.

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The “playful, modern and cool” product range includes a selection of new summer 2023 styles alongside vintage pieces, and there’s a customization station in store, the company said.

It’s just the latest development in a turnaround effort, which is aiming to put the Gen X-defining brand back in consumers’ closets.

Esprit was originally founded in 1969 by Doug and Susie Tompkins (who previously founded The North Face) and Jane Tise. They sold their dresses out of their station wagon in San Francisco, California. By 1978, the brand’s sales topped $100 million.

Throughout the ’80s the California-aspirational clothing, John Casado-designed stencil effect logo, and new-at-the-time Real People campaigns shot by Oliviero Toscani were world famous. And Esprit was an essential part of mall culture, so much so that the storefronts and clothes have turned up in throwback scenes in TV’s “Stranger Things” and “The Last of Us.”

Esprit opens pop-up in New York’s Soho.
Esprit opens pop-up in New York’s SoHo.

Fun fact: the Esprit L.A. Superstore was the roller skating rink Flippers Roller Boogie Palace from 1979 to 1981. Gen X fans who remember wearing the brand when they were awkward teens can reminisce about that, the brand’s whimsical prints, logo sweatshirts, must-have huarache shoes and more thanks to Michelle Koza’s excellent archival clothing and imagery Instagram account, @esprit.flashback.

The founders severed their ties to Esprit in 1996, selling their interest to their Hong Kong partner. Esprit’s headquarters moved from San Francisco to Ratingen, near Düsseldorf, Germany, while factory, sourcing and financial operations are situated in Hong Kong, where the company is listed on the stock exchange.

Esprit’s design, branding, creative and photography was newly relocated to New York City as part of the return to the U.S. market, which the brand exited in 2012.

“Esprit was known as metropolitan outdoor, elevated Gorpcore. They created a lot of layering, comfortable silhouettes and shape,” said global chief brand officer Ana Andjelic during a recent visit to the L.A. office. “Bonnie Cashin, Clare McCardell, Halston, Donna Karan, we are in that line creating comfortable clothes for the real lives of the creative class.”

Esprit opens pop-up in New York’s Soho.
Inside Esprit’s pop-up in New York’s SoHo.

New releases include eight signature products that go back to Esprit DNA, including a parka, which will come in sequins for the holidays, a button-down, a drawstring bag and denim. “It’s how can we interpret them for 2023 and beyond,” she said of the design direction.

Prices top out at about $1,200, and the brand is targeting both Gen X and Gen Z with an elevation of quality, fit and fabric, capsules and collaborations, and a move to wholesaling at elevated department stores in the fourth quarter.

“There is an empty space with Gap and J.Crew. Think of it as if the Frankie Shop and Anine Bing had scale,” Andjelic said of her outlook for Esprit.

She is in the process of shipping the archives from Germany to New York. And she’s bringing footwear, accessories, watches and eyewear design in-house, with an emphasis on less but better, going back to Esprit’s early mission of ecological responsibility.

The brand operates about 160 retail stores, with an additional 450 franchise partners worldwide. The new pop-up is part of the expansion plan that Esprit is implementing across North America throughout the year.

Esprit returned to the U.S. in 2022 with a pop-up in L.A., and a pop-up on Prince Street in New York. On June 1, it will open another short-term pop up at The Grove in L.A. Permanent retail locations are planned for New York City, Robertson Boulevard in L.A., and Vancouver in late 2023.

“Now that the nostalgia is resonating with customers, we’re going with larger store formats and more elevated store frontage, more luxury feeling with a central hub concept, a place for partners to sit and enjoy the environment…and some of the stores will have coffee bar omnichannel check-outs,” said chief executive officer William Pak, who was in L.A. to speak at the Milken Institute Global Conference. “We’re trying to engage customers in a physical format but also online. So the online and offline connected together and also the five senses, because everyone remembers a time in their life connected to music or sense of smell, so we want to make sure that’s in the store as well.”

Andjelic hopes to have a Esprit event during New York Fashion Week in September, and a runway show in February 2023.

“I think it was a Neiman Marcus fashion show when Susie didn’t like any of the models who showed up and she said, ‘Bring me employees,'” Andjelic said, of the roots of what turned into the groundbreaking Real People campaign, featuring creatives talking about how they style their clothing. “I do think there is room if we are using New York as our headquarters to offer a different form of storytelling.”

Launch Gallery: Inside Esprit's Pop-Up in New York City

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