c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — The latest designer store to join the bustling retail scene that surrounds Howard Street in SoHo, an area pioneered by Opening Ceremony, is around the corner at 148 Lafayette St. If the address rings a bell, that is because it has appeared for 17 years on the label of one of fashion’s quietest success stories.

Lafayette 148, as the company is known, is so quiet that you will not even notice the store from the street: it is on the eighth floor, and as yet there is no sign.

Though it started with several stores in the New York area in the late 1990s, the company, known primarily for career-oriented sportswear that was originally manufactured at its SoHo headquarters, has focused for the last decade on its department-store business and its own online and catalog sales. Now it has 1,500 employees and a state-of-the-art factory in Shantou, China. Over the last two years, three stores have opened in China (with a fourth opening next week).

But still customers showed up at the offices on Lafayette Street, looking for a store.

“So it all pointed in one direction,” said Deirdre Quinn, the chief executive and a founder of Lafayette 148 with Shun Yen Siu, her partner in China.

Earlier this year, as floors became available in the building, Lafayette 148, which maintains its showroom, administrative offices and sample-making facilities there, expanded. The eighth floor was chosen for the store, Quinn said, to reflect its symbolism for luck in Chinese culture. (It is for the same reason that the prices of all of its designs end in an eight.)

And with 4,000 square feet, the company was able to create the kind of environment that is not possible in a traditional department store, with a full range of sizes, including petites and plus sizes, categories that have largely been dropped by Manhattan retailers.

The store, which is open to the public on weekdays beginning this week and also by appointment, is an experiment for customers as much as it is a showcase for the retailers who shop the line there. In this setting, Lafayette 148 can present the line as it would want, showing luxury items and jewelry and calfskin totes, even custom evening dresses, not just the $248 white shirts in stretch cotton for which it is known. Of its more than 100,000 online customers, about 10 percent live in the metropolitan region, but many of them still want to try on clothes before buying.

“Rather than opening in every mall in America, we wanted to find our own path,” said Paul Lechlinski, the company’s vice president for retail services.

The elevators open onto a bright floor with windows facing east and west, just above the rooftops of neighboring buildings. A spiraling silver sculpture, chosen because it resembles a figure eight, sits on a table, near abstract black-and-white paintings by the company’s longtime design director, Edward Wilkerson. At the front of one rack is a rich burgundy calfskin jacket with laser-cut edges, for $1,998; in another display, a camel-to-citron, double-face cashmere jacket with leather trim for $698. There is also some serious statement jewelry, like an 18-karat gold-plated brass necklace that resembles a sea anemone.

A department store might be nervous about ordering many of these designs, but the company can still produce them in limited quantities in as little as three weeks.

While there is an obvious risk that no one will recognize there is a store upstairs, Quinn said there were other advantages to being in the same building in which the product is designed. Alterations, for example, can be handled by the original patternmaker downstairs. And if customers want a sneak preview of spring, they can always stop by the showroom on 2.