MIAMI BEACH — Having conquered this hip South Florida enclave with one of the world's coolest fashion boutiques, Laure Heriard Dubreuil could have set her sights on New York or LA. Or even Rio, where she has developed a following among Brazilian tourists, or Shanghai, as she speaks Mandarin.
Instead, she's got her heart set on Houston.
Houston didn't seem like the obvious place for Dubreuil's first store outside Florida, but she says that several clients mentioned it as an under-the-radar location.
Eight years ago, Dubreuil, whose family owns the famed Rémy-Martin cognac company, needed a dress to wear for a special event at Art Basel Miami Beach, the renowned art festival that draws a worldwide crowd, and couldn't find anything to fit her style.
So, weary of the rainy Paris weather and sensing that South Beach needed a hip fashion boutique, the French native purchased an art deco hotel, The Webster, that had seen better days and set out to open a store that carried cutting-edge designers that reflected her unique sense of style.
Buyers and friends warned her that the Miami area was filled with old people who didn't care about fashion or flashy/trashy dressers who favored gold lamé. She thought differently.
Dubreuil, who has a degree in merchandising from FIT in New York and worked for Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, stocked the store, which she called The Webster, with distinctive high-end clothing, shoes, accessories and jewelry for men and women from top design houses like Givenchy, Valentino, Balenciaga, Lanvin and Céline and up-and-comers like Rosie Assoulin, Haider Ackerman and Opening Ceremony.
The Webster was an instant success, putting Miami on the style map, as the hip fashion crowd compared it favorably with such legendary worldwide boutiques as 10 Corso Como in Milan and Colette in Paris.
Jewel box location
A few years later, Dubreuil opened a second store in a tony mall in nearby Bal Harbor, and now she is excited about plans for her third store, which will open in November in The Galleria in a special "jewel box" location currently under construction in the mall parking lot on Westheimer.
The 5,000-square foot Houston boutique will likely mirror the Florida stores, with fine artwork mixed in among the offerings.
Houston didn't seem like the obvious place for her first store outside Florida, but she says that several clients mentioned it as an under-the-radar location, where such high-end stores as Chanel are thriving. So she and The Webster chief operating officer Cedric Aumonnier flew to Houston, not knowing one person, checked into the St. Regis Hotel and drove around the city, looking at malls, mansions, museums, restaurants and observing the potential clientele.
"I went and I fell in love with the city and I was so happily surprised. And I felt very good energy," she said. "I thought there was room for The Webster. I thought I could maybe bring something different. And also I could see the way I buy, the way I select, how people dress, they would be attracted to what I am providing as well."
She connected with Galleria owner the Simon Property Group, which was looking for a special tenant to draw attention to the mall as a high-end shopping destination as it battles with the nearby River Oaks District, which is opening later this year, for upscale customers.
The 5,000-square foot Houston boutique will likely mirror the Florida stores, with fine artwork mixed in among the classic and contemporary fashion offerings. (Dubreuil's fiancé is noted artist Aaron Young and a large painting of his dominates the first floor of the South Beach store.) "The Webster is a combination of art and fashion," Aumonnier told a group of Houston reporters who toured the store in a trip hosted by Simon.
The first floor of the South Beach store features a handbag and leather goods bar where the hotel check-in desk once was and a pop-up shop featuring jewelry-encrusted Dior ballet flats. The Webster has also recently featured a collaboration of all-white designer goods with the Paris department store Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche and during the recent Miami Open tennis tournament, Dubreuil hosted a party at the store with tennis player John Isner for the exclusive launch of the Lacoste LT12 racket and capsule collection. Dubreuil envisions hosting similar events at the Houston store.
"It's now fashion to have a mix of brands because it shows you have taste. The client can be themselves, not what the brand wants them to be but what they want to be."
In the Florida stores, dresses, gowns and sportswear are grouped according to color (coral and orange are big shades for spring) and designers are mixed in — a Victoria Beckham fitted black dress is next to a glittery Chanel jacket and Paco Rabanne pieces. A large mens department features a cutting-edge assortment, ranging from Balmain biker jeans, Maison Margiela T-shirts and Givenchy track suits to Junya Watanabe Commes des Garcon backpacks and Saint Laurent skinny blazers.
"Now clients are very educated. They know what fashion is. They know what they like, they know what they want, they know what they don't want," Aumonnier said. "And it's now fashion to have a mix of brands because it shows you have taste rather than being all Chanel or all Saint Laurent. The client can be themselves, not what the brand wants them to be but what they want to be."
Dubreuil, who is only 36, believes it's "extremely important" to support young designers. "It's part of the Webster DNA," she said. "I'm part of the jury of the LVMH Prize; I carry a lot of the designers who are part of their selection. It's important to build a relationship, not just the hot designer of the moment and switch to the other one. I am very faithful. It takes time to build a relationship."
But with so many luxury brands already in Houston outposts or planning to arrive soon, does the Bayou City really need another luxury boutique? Dubreuil is convinced we do because she selects items that really can't be easily found anywhere else. "It's about editing, editing, editing. That's the way my brain works. And it's really important to go with things that I like," she said.
"It's all about the selection of brands and the selection within the brands. I want people to stay for some time, like it's their home and it's their gigantic closet. They can take off their shoes and walk on the carpet. They can sit on the sofa and have a drink and try everything and feel comfortable. I want it to be very welcoming where you can have a good time."
She chose Houston because, "I do things with my feeling," she said. "And it needs to be organic. And I need to feel happy about it. I want people to really enjoy what I can bring. I put all my heart into it so I am happy when people feel very receptive. And they are going to like what I am bringing. I think it's all about timing as well."
She hopes to add her point of view to the Houston fashion scene so that customers will "just enjoy shopping and having a good time and being able to buy things in Houston rather than New York," she said.
"To be able to shop in Houston to wear in Houston, and maybe a different look, different twists, mix all of them together."