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Monday, Jan 30, 2023
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Papa’s New Bag

Adam Levine – lead vocalist for pop-rock band Maroon 5, coach on NBC’s “The Voice” and recent Academy Awards performer – is a name that rings a bell. He is also known for his casual fashion sense and clothing line, which is carried in Sears and K-Mart. But it’s safe to say that not many know the popular singer’s father, Fred Levine, is the owner of M. Fredric – an Agoura Hills-based apparel chain that is on a major growth spurt. The chain has eight stores, one of which is relocating to a larger location, and is adding three more, including one at the Village at Topanga – the $350 million addition to the Woodland Hills shopping scene expected to open this fall. The elder Levine, who started his company in 1980 and has weathered the apparel sector’s ups and downs, is happy for his son’s success and even carries the singer’s line of fragrances. But he likes to point out that the success of his company has little to do with his son’s celebrity status. “I didn’t put on a backpack and go traveling through Europe to find myself after college. I immediately got busy,” said Levine, 64. “And even though I’ve been doing this for 35 years, I still love it just as much as the day I started.” M. Fredric is known as a multi-brand retailer and has outlets in Westlake Village, Calabasas, Studio City and Valencia that carry dozens of brands for women, men and children. Its smaller stores in Ventura, Oxnard and Marina Del Rey have only women’s products. Brands include bohemian-style dresses and accessories from Free People in Philadelphia, kid selections from Splendid in Los Angeles and luxury denim from Joe’s Jeans in Commerce. The mid-range boutique, with prices from $30 to $200, is similar to Southern California specialty retailers Planet Blue in Santa Monica and Madison in West Los Angeles, though less expensive. The chain also has a bit of a show biz following with celebs such as Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts photographed by paparazzi visiting the stores. For years, the stores have featured dark wood-paneled floors, wood fixtures and hanging chandeliers that give it a rustic feel accented by wooden tables topped with scarves, hats, pursues and other accessories. Clothes hang from the walls on wooden posts and racks are disbursed throughout the store without any symmetry. But in April it is closing its existing Westlake Village store in the Westlake Promenade and opening a 5,000-square-foot store at the Westlake Plaza on 982 Westlake Blvd. The new store will feature a fresh interior design –including all white wood fixtures and brightly colored walls to give it a modern feel – which will be extended to the existing stores by the end of this year. “M. Fredric is not currently presented the way I want it to be presented in 2015,” Levine said. “We are determined to retain the warmth and the charm that we have in our stores now – but updated with a contemporary feel.” ‘Survival mode’ The rustic décor has been the trademark of M. Fredric since Levine – a Los Angeles native who had begrudgingly practiced law for three years in Beverly Hills – quit his job as an attorney in 1979 in search of something he’d enjoy. “Law was not my cup of tea, (but) it wasn’t wasted. I use my legal background all the time in business,” he said. With the help of his mother and sister, Levine invested $30,000 to open the first store in Brentwood – which broke even three months after its opening. The trio then opened two more locations, financed by profits, in Marina Del Rey and Beverly Hills a few months later. By 2008 Levine was up to 21 stores in Southern California, but once the recession hit he was forced to consolidate. By 2010 he was down to seven stores. His first stores in Brentwood and Beverley Hills were among those that closed. “Going through the deep recession and being in survival mode day in and day out was a huge challenge. I had to dig out from the bottom and tread water to survive,” he recalled. “It was a grueling experience. But in a way it made me sharper, and now I’m less impulsive and more strategic.” Levine negotiated with landlords and vendors to maintain the seven locations, and now that the economy is on the mend, he is looking to rebuild fast – starting with a 3,000-square-foot store at the Village at Topanga. It will open in the fall when Westfield Corp. finishes the 550,000-square-foot outdoor mall currently under construction. The shop will be the new flagship for the chain, and will include the new interior design and carry clothes for the entire family. Christine Boudreaux is looking forward to the renovations. She has been shopping at M. Fredric in Westlake Village for nearly eight years, purchasing clothes for her 8-year-old son. “I can come in and it’s easy for me to grab and go. Plus my son looks sharp; he’s a good looking dude. The product lasts, so you don’t mind spending money,” she said. Though he’s hoping to expand his sales and revenue with the new stores, Levine declined to share company revenue or the amount invested to complete the renovations. He currently employs 100 people, the majority of whom work in the warehouse and offices at the Agoura Hills headquarters. Specialty chains such as M. Fredric currently make up 18 percent of the $370 billion apparel retail sector, according to research by McMillanDoolittle, a retail consultancy in New York. Neil Stern, a senior partner at McMillanDoolittle, said boutiques can thrive but they need to be well managed. “There are significant economic challenges in specialty apparel retailing,” he said. “Major chains such as Coldwater Creek, Delia and Cache are liquidating, and others like Wet Seal are in trouble and closing stores. However, a well-positioned boutique that curates their offer to the consumer can thrive.” Travel retail Meanwhile, Levine is preparing for the opening of small M. Fredric shops at LAX Terminal 6 and the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston by the end of the year. The retailer partnered with World Duty Free Group, a Spanish company that operates retail shops at airports worldwide. The idea is to add the retailer into airports in Dallas, San Francisco and Newark by next year. “I think that airports in major cities have the potential to be the new shopping center, a place to shop while you wait,” Levine said. “It’s perfect in so many ways because travelers love to consume retail while they’re on vacation.” Donna Maxwell, head of U.S. trading at World Duty Free, said the company approached Levine since the chain had a brand that “truly represented the L.A. lifestyle.” “M. Fredric has operated in Southern California for over 30 years and has a loyal customer base,” she added. In his spare time, Levine is basking in the success of his son, whose publicist said he was not available for comment because he was on tour. The chain carries a selection of Adam Levine’s men and women’s fragrances, launched in May 2013, five months before the pop star’s clothing line went live – a variety of hip skinny and loose fitting jeans, patterned T-shirts, button-ups and sweaters, sold at modest prices. And though the elder Levine was not involved in developing the pop star’s clothing line, he likes to think he had something to do with it. “He was one year old when I opened the stores, and I think it is interesting that he grew up in a family of retailers,” he said. “He developed the line all on his own, I was just a dad. It was by osmosis.”

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