Landlord Charles S. Cohen came up with a novel way to land a store tenant in a wretched retail leasing market: Buy the store first.
London-based men’s clothier Richard James has signed a lease for 2,000 square feet at Cohen’s 465 Park Ave. at East 57th Street. It marks a breakthrough at one of East Midtown’s most prominent corners, which has been vacant for six years.
But there’s even more to the story. Cohen — who runs a 12-million-square-foot commercial real estate empire, produces and distributes films and recently reopened the beloved Quad Cinema — is known as a stylish dresser.
Around 15 years ago, his wife, Clo, a longtime fashion executive, told Cohen on one of the couple’s visits to London, “You should check out Richard James,” he recalled.
The Savile Row shop founded by Richard James and Sean Dixon was “the new kid on the block at the time,” Dixon says. It practiced classic British “bespoke” tailoring using British fabrics, but its styles were more contemporary, its colors brighter, and the service less stuffy. Co-founder James once told GQ, “We were hated in Savile Row when we started.”
Richard James has two shops in London, one of which also sells ready-to-wear products. Cohen became a regular customer on his frequent trips to the city — “a dozen or so suits every year,” he said.
Then, about two years ago, Richard James had the expansion itch. “Our business had reached the stage where our organic growth had run out of steam. We needed to take it to another level,” Dixon said.
Cohen learned that an Asian group planned to invest in the company, but the deal had fallen through. He expressed interest in riding to the rescue. “I got a call from Sean Dixon,” Cohen said. “We struck a deal,” and Cohen bought an unspecified majority stake in Richard James in February.
The deal included bringing Richard James to New York. The line isn’t that widely known here, although it’s sold in Barneys, has a strong online presence and boasts such celeb clients as George Clooney, Elton John, John Legend and Robert Downey Jr., as well as numerous Wall Street moguls.
“On one trip to London, I said to Sean, ‘I have this landmark-type space at 57th Street and Park Avenue.’ It was a deal point for me,” Cohen said. His strategy was a stroke of brilliance — and of necessity. Although he’d lured Saks Off Fifth to his 135 E. 57th St. tower at the block’s Lexington Avenue end, the Park Avenue corner was another story.
Cohen bought the retail condo at 465 Park Ave., the elegant Ritz Tower prewar apartment building, for $22 million in 2009. But after Borders Books closed in 2011, its 40,000 square feet defied his every effort to lease it through a succession of brokers, advisers and shifting price strategies.
Adding to Cohen’s frustration, a surgical facility that was supposed to take part of the space backed out.
Enter Richard James. “Charles saw the potential, especially in the US,”…