This is a lousy time for both retail and media, and with Live! On Sunset, veteran denim impresario Gerard Guez is getting into both. His 11,000-square-foot store opened in September in a classic Los Angeles location, the original Tower Records space on Hollywood's iconic Sunset Strip.
Many retailers play up the theater of their own environments, and shops from the grungiest comic book emporium to the haughtiest Neiman Marcus outlet are stage sets aimed at different audiences. Live! On Sunset, which sells the kind of L.A. casual fashion instantly familiar to anyone who's seen a "candid" celebrity photo in the past decade, is chasing something grander. It has a stage for events: A recent bash featured celebrity blogger Perez Hilton as Santa Claus. The store is rigged with photographer-friendly lighting. Its employees shoot in-store digital video through the course of the day, and can post it on the company's Web site, liveonsunset.com, which is larded with live store feeds and video interviews with stylists and tastemakers.
Live!'s overarching idea thus runs somewhat backwards to established retail mores: The store is a stage, but it produces its own programming intended to establish a name and earn notoriety sufficient to build a sizable e-commerce operation—one that is gradually ramping up. It's the store as media property, or something of an ongoing reality show, with staffers and stylists as the cast, and, Guez suggests, the occasional celebrity popping in. "My model," he says, "is to build a much more modern QVC."
Guez began slapping logos on jeans in the Seventies. Back then, he was behind (sorry) Sasson, that key cultural signifier of the disco-era designer-denim bubble. Guez has since gone on to jeans brands such as Seven and into a host of casual fashion businesses, most recently through his Tarrant Apparel Group (TAGS). His store's blend of commerce and media is not wholly new, as evidenced by the Home Shopping Network and shopping magazine Lucky (itself a notion pilfered from a long-standing Japanese magazine genre). But those layered shopping onto a medium, whereas Live! goes in the opposite direction. Guez and his team envision the store as a sort of media outlet for celebrities, especially those with branded products to push. "They can roll down the hill—if they live in L.A., that is—and have [an appearance] broadcast all over," says Guez, thanks to the store's Web site. This idea, while decidedly L.A. and L.A.-celebrity centric, is not totally nuts. Among the A-listers currently associating their names or mugs with product lines are Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake, whose William Rast clothing line is sold at Guez's store.
All that said, Live! carries a more than slight scent of the recent past. As astonishing as this sounds, celebrity obsession may have crested, or at least paused, to judge from the crucial barometer of declining newsstand sales of celebrity magazines. Perhaps the L.A.-casual fashion combos purveyed by Live! and long sported by celebs in the pages of Us Weekly or on TMZ.com (TWX)—pricey tight tops and pricey tight jeans and pricey casual-chic footwear—have peaked as well. That Live! has a DJ booth and a Buddha Bar—an exotic-kitsch, lounge-lizard nightclub minichain also owned by Guez—only adds to the store's seeming rather 2003. Dylan Brown, Live!'s chief operating officer, shrugs off such concerns: "People are still enamored with entertainment, and the people and places that are a part of that."
Fair enough. But peeks at the Webcam feeds from Live! in mid-December revealed vast spaces of the cavernous store with no civilians in sight. A visit three days before Christmas found the store similarly unpopulated. "Sales have been slow to medium, compared to expectations," says Guez. (He and his team blame the economy.) Still, while he concedes this may not be the best time to launch a major retail initiative, he expresses confidence in his vision. "I have always gained market share in a crisis," he says. Well, Guez has got his crisis, as well as an interesting notion of how retail and media can intersect. All he needs is the market share.