HEMLINE Has Grown from One Shop in the Quarter to 28 Stores Across the Southeast
NEW ORLEANS – Boutique clothing retailer HEMLINE is celebrating 25 years in business this weekend by hosting a “Place Showroom” pop-up shop and a luxury vintage trunk show in the courtyard of the original HEMLINE location at 609 Chartres St.
The HEMLINE story began 25 years ago, when Brazil native Brigitte Holthausen opened a booth at the Historic French Market to sell sandals, jewelry, backpacks and other items that caught her eye and met a market demand. In 1993, with help from her husband Luciano Holthausen, she opened the first location of HEMLINE on Chartres Street. Since that time, HEMLINE has grown to include 28 locations across Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee. The majority of the shops are franchises and many of those are owned by former HEMLINE employees who have stayed part of the corporate family.
If you consider the number of shops that open and close each year, you realize what an accomplishment it is to build just one successful store – not to mention a footprint that stretches across the southeast.
Bridgitte’s daughter Gabriella Holthausen, a Loyola grad who now serves as the HEMLINE vice president, says the key to the company’s success is the combination of her mother’s fashion instincts and her ability to understand what will connect with customers.
“She would never just choose what she likes or what she see celebrities wear,” said Holthausen. “It’s more about what she sees the community wear. So what you see on Magazine is different from Mandeville because it’s a different clientele.”
HEMLINE stocks fashion from more than 200 brands and is always looking for shiny new things to make sure customers have a special experience in the store.
“A lot of times people come for a big brand like Alice + Olivia or Alexis,” said Holthausen. “Those are two that are very popular at our Chartres Street location. But we’re always trying to bring in new trends, new designers, trying to make things special for clients and that includes the customer service as well.”
As it has grown, HEMLINE has also invested in point-of-sale systems and customer relationship management technology to improve customer experiences and add data to the mix of tools to help determine market demand.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it. One is having a good eye. [Brigitte] has been doing it for 25 years and goes with her gut. That’s one big factor – and the other is looking at data. We have 28 locations now, so running numbers is a big thing. Every week we’re looking at what’s in and what’s out. The buyers work really closely with the sales staff to make sure we’re getting the right info. And we also get feedback from customers.”
In contrast to that macro approach to stocking the shelves, sometimes it helps if individual stores are just paying attention to what’s happening in their area.
“Buying can change based on weather … not to mention who’s winning,” said Holthausen. “If LSU is doing well, [Louisiana] customers will want more tiger.” Or when the Rolling Stones came to town earlier this year, HEMLINE partnered with one of their brands to create a bag with the famous Stones mouth logo on it and sold lots.
Ultimately, Holthausen said, stocking the shelves with one-of-a-kind items is the key to their business model.
“Boutiques do well because people love to have an item that’s unique instead of buying bigger brands and then seeing [someone else] wearing the same dress. Now more than ever, customers want that special piece.”
HEMLINE on Chartres Street will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
By Rich Collins