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July 26 2014

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Talking Expansion Plans With Satine’s Jeannie Lee

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A lot has changed in the six years since Jeannie Lee opened her boutique Satine on a cozy stretch of Third Street in West Hollywood. Third Street, for example, has gone from a pedestrian-friendly series of blocks intermittently dotted with shops to one of L.A.’s key retail destinations—a change due, in part, to the presence of Satine. Shopping in Los Angeles is different now: The city is peppered with independent boutiques, each one expressing a unique, carefully cultivated point of view, and all of them, in so doing, following a template set by Satine. Lee made unconventional and off-the-beaten-track look easy—and maybe, at the height of the boom, it was. Now, in the teeth of the bust, she’s charting a new course. The most noticeable change? Next month, Satine moves to a new location, a space across the street and just down the block, but more than double the size of the current shop. Here, she talks to Style.com about silver linings, unmentionables, and Michelle Obama.

Everyone else seems to be downsizing. What made you decide you wanted to move Satine to a larger space?

Well, my lease was ending, and I decided to consider my options. One silver lining to this economy is that rents have fallen, and so that made a larger space affordable, at the same time that I was feeling ready to spread out. I love my store now, but it’s crowded.

What kind of changes should people expect?

We’re going to have a mini-library, a lingerie salon, larger dressing rooms. It’s split-level, which is nice, because it makes it easier to set up for parties or do little pop-up things on the mezzanine, and eventually I’d like to open up the roof, too. Maybe the best thing about this space is that there is just tons of natural light—I’ve tried to be environmentally conscious in this renovation, using recycled and recyclable materials wherever I can, for example, and the light is part of that. During the day, we shouldn’t need to turn on any lights.

You mentioned that you’re putting a lingerie salon in the new store. Was that decision related to the fact that you’re doing your own line of lingerie for Anthropologie?

It’s not unrelated. Bacini, the lingerie I design with Virginia Pereira, is a totally separate thing from Satine. We sell the brand at the store, but the whole reason it even exists is because I was tossing around ideas with the head of Urban Outfitters, which owns Anthropologie, and they were open to doing something new with intimates. The stuff is very clean—a lot of masculine references, in fact, like men’s shirting or the prints you find on ties. We launched at Anthropologie in January, and it’s been doing really well.

You’ve got a few of these side projects going on. Is that a response to the recession? Or were you looking for a new creative outlet?

Actually, at the time we came up with the idea for Bacini, the economy was still humming along nicely. But as a businessperson, I felt the need to diversify, and certainly that’s become more of a priority, watching what’s happening in the world right now. I mean, I’m out here on my own. And the store is going to be fine—we’ll survive. But business is a lot tougher, and so it is nice, now and then, to separate myself from Satine and work on another project. I’m a girl, I love bras; it’s been fun. And it’s been good practice, too, in terms of learning the ins and outs of design and manufacturing. At some point soon, I’d like to roll out an in-house Satine label.

Has working as a designer changed you as a buyer?

It’s made me a lot nicer. I mean, I’ve always been considerate, but the way we edit at Satine, it can be pretty ruthless—you know, sometimes I see a jacket I like, and I like the blouse that goes with it too, but I don’t feel like I need it. I’ve gotten a lot of blowback from designers who feel like, no, you need both pieces. That used to really annoy me. Now that I’ve been through the process of putting a collection together, I understand. Splitting certain pieces up can feel like separating a brother and sister, you know?

That said, I assume your budgets have tightened along with everyone else’s. Don’t you have to be extra-selective?

Extra-selective; extra-service-oriented; extra-everything.

So? What’s selling?

What we’re experiencing is, people are buying anything really fantastic. If someone looks at a piece and thinks, I can’t live without that, then price doesn’t matter. Alaïa and Balmain are selling like crazy. Like, that crystal runway shoe from Balmain sold out—sold out!—in 24 hours. It’s not practical, it’s not for anyone’s lifestyle, but it’s fantastic and exciting. On the flip side of that, the younger brands I’m excited about tend to do functional dressing really well. Kimberly Ovitz, Apiece Apart. Minimal, no branding, not flashy, just exceptionally well cut, thought-out, useful clothes.

You were an early supporter of Jason Wu and Thakoon. Have you seen a Michelle Obama effect?

Oh, unbelievable. That woman was sent from heaven, I swear. I mean, Jason Wu, for example—women used to come into the store, and they’d love his pieces, but they’d hedge. You know, oh, but it’s so expensive…Now, they call us, begging. We can’t keep Jason Wu in stock. And she’s bringing us a different customer, too. Truly, it’s amazing what she’s done to expose young, emerging designers to a new audience. I love that she’s so committed to doing that. And I love that she’s making people talk about fashion. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of talking about the recession. It’s all around, there’s no avoiding it, but I’d much rather talk about what Michelle Obama is wearing. God bless her.

Photo: Getty Images

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