Hot Retail Concept: Ruehl

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Two stunning 20-somethings stand at the doorway. There's a wrought-iron fence designed to look like a three-story Greenwich Village brownstone, complete with a brick facade and flowerboxes.

The "address" is Ruehl No. 925. The setting is a lifestyle mall in Columbus, Ohio, and the chain is owned by Abercrombie & Fitch. Instead of a wide-open store with high ceilings, you enter nine dimly lit, interlocking rooms designed to look like New York studio apartments, complete with photographs, candles, couches and shelves lined with Museum of Modern Art books and Tom Wolfe novels. You'll even find a copy of The New York Times and New Yorker on a coffee table.

The pricing: Price points run about 30% higher than at A&F. For example, there's the $198 studio denim "destroyed" jeans with swaths of brightly colored paint, made in Mexico, but shipped to New York art studios where artists such as "Tim" (we know this because they've "autographed" their names in thread on the inside seam of each pair) splattered the paint "just so" on the jeans.

The target market: Aiming to be the apparel choice from age 7 to 35, the $2 billion retailer created what it calls "business casual style meets Greenwich Village attitude" to meet the needs of the "modern-minded, post-college" set aged 22-35.

The goal: 250 to 300 stores. And yes, plans call for one in New York.

The setting: 9,000 square feet of retail space, a series of nine interlocking rooms, averaging about 800 square feet of space.

The premise: Just like an actor weaving a character backstory, the store has a story. The narrative is a German family that moves to American in the 1850s and opens a leather-goods shop in Greenwich Village.

Sales: $2.4 million for the first quarter 2005, ending in April.

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