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2011 August 18

Retailer Files, Vol. 24: Jade Lai, Creatures of Comfort

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Jade Lai, Creatures of Comfort Jade Lai, Creatures of Comfort
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(NEW YORK) A mid-afternoon stroll down Mulberry Street in Nolita is incomplete without a stare or two—or maybe three—at the latest goods at Creatures of Comfort's ultrahip flagship. Bringing international hipster brands from Europe and Asia to Manhattanites and Angelenos, owner Jade Lai gives The Daily the scoop on what makes artists, directors, and other creative types coming back another dose of Comfort. BY BRIAN PAULSON 

What was it like growing up in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is super dynamic and very cosmopolitan. It’s not unlike New York, in that sense.

What do you think of the booming luxury retail scene in Hong Kong today?
It’s been very happening for many years. I remember going to Hong Kong in the ‘80s and fashion was definitely one of the biggest industries there, even then. I lived in Hong Kong after college, when I was 24 and I remember that it’s basically what everybody does. Shopping is their hobby.

Would you evern open up shop in Hong Kong?
I’m not sure, because there are many major players in Hong Kong already. The niche might have been already filled. One day I might open a store in Hong Kong--it just may not be fashion-focused.

You studied environmental design in college. How did you end up in fashion?
I grew up around fashion—my dad used to own factories and fashion houses, so it's always been a huge part of my life. It’s very much close to me. I was always attracted to the industry, and the first job I got was with with a small company. I designed and produced their fashion shows. They kept me on to do sales and other things that I didn’t want to do. That was my first foot in the door in fashion. Then I somehow ended up in Hong Kong in 2004 to do arts department for a company, but that fell through. I ended up getting a job at a corporate fashion house doing sourcing and product development. That’s how I got into the industry.

Is anything you learned from your college major applicable to fashion?
A lot of my Environmental Design studies were just about basic design, so it was super useful knowledge when I was opening my stores and needed to figure out how to plan out the space. Even the economics of people and how they move around is applicable to what I'm doing now 

How do you divvy up your time?
I’m mostly in New York. I live in New York, and I go to L.A. maybe three to four times a year. 

What was your opening day like?
I opened the L.A. store in August 2005. It was fun, but I was super nervous. My really good friend sat in the store with me, just waiting—it was really dead. People came in, thinking it was a spa, since it looked so different from all the other stores in L.A. I still remember the first customer I talked to and the first shoe I sold. I was so nervous. It was gratifying, though. It’s very different from how it is now; I used to work in the store seven days a week for two and a half years. I did everything myself, and it was very different then from how it is now. 

How would you compare the L.A. and New York stores?
When I opened the L.A. store, I intended for it to be a lifestyle store, but the space wouldn’t allow it. With the New York store, the bigger space allows me to do more of what I want to do. We have menswear, furniture, and a little gallery space. 

Do the customers differ between locations?
The New York and L.A. customers aren’t that different, although in L.A., we have more creative types. We have directors, writers and artists—those types of people. We get a lot of out-of-town visitors, too: people who shop with us online and want to check out the store in-person. Because our New York store is on Mulberry, we get a lot of tourist traffic as well, which we don’t really get in L.A.

Who are some of your more unusual customers?
Vanessa Paradis shops at our L.A. location a lot; we get weird people in general. We get some of those pop singers, too. The 'wow' factor isn’t very high for me. No Madonna or anything!

Which coast does your personal style veer towards? 
It varies, and I travel so much; I dress according to where I am. I have this wacky sense of style anyway—I just throw things on. When I think of the way New Yorkers dress, I think of more corporate style. L.A. is more relaxed; I think I’m a little bit of both.

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