Eric Emanuel Talks Opening His First Store and Filling BAPE’s Former NY Flagship: 'It’s So Surreal'

Eric Emanuel talks opening his first store, filling BAPE's former NY flagship, his new partnership with Adidas, expanding beyond just shorts, and more.

Eric Emanuel NYC Concept Store 5
Retail Store

Image via Eric Emanuel

Eric Emanuel NYC Concept Store 5

For streetwear shoppers that frequent New York’s SoHo neighborhood, 91 Greene Street might ring a bell. From 2004 to 2021, it was home to A Bathing Ape’s New York flagship, a must-visit for plenty of shoppers. Even if you couldn’t afford a Shark hoodie or a pair of Bapestas, seeing the items in person felt special. Growing up, Eric Emanuel was one of those shoppers who made sure to pay a visit to the Bape store whenever he would take day trips down to New York City from his hometown in Syracuse, New York. Now, Emanuel resides in New York’s Garment District, the same place he’s produced his wildly popular mesh shorts for his eponymous label since 2016. Yesterday, the mesh shorts maven opened up his first permanent brick-and-mortar store at the very place he used to visit when he was younger.

“When I came down as a kid, 91 Greene Street was the first stop on my list. And it’s the only place I really wanted to go, whether it was for footwear, T-shirts, whatever it may be, it truly was just an experience. You had the two floors, you had the camouflage wallpaper, shoes fitting in the front window. I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Emanuel tells Complex. “It’s so surreal. I sat here for two hours the other night alone, listening to music, just hanging out and taking it all in. Truly, I still don’t even think I believe it, but it’s happening.”

Emanuel is candid about the recent weeks that have led up to the grand opening on Thursday afternoon. He says everything came together in around two months and that he wasn’t even really looking to open a store until this opportunity presented itself. 

Eric Emanuel NYC Concept Store 8

“I saw that this location was up for grabs, and it immediately just sparked something in my mind, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I literally couldn’t go to sleep until I figured it out if I could actually make this happen,” says Emanuel. “So we moved extremely fast. If I had to be anywhere in New York, this is the only place I would want to be.”

As we walk around the space one day before it opens, tools are still scattered around the floor as workers make finishing touches to the sales floor. Until recently, passerbys couldn’t peek into the retail spot. The glass window was covered by black stickers bearing a large Eric Emanual logo, the same “Best Shorts in the World’’ phrase that’s emblazoned on his ziplock packaging, and copy that read “Spring 2021.” In an hour’s time on this particular Wednesday evening, at least a dozen people walk in hoping to cop something only to be turned away with a, “We’re not open yet.” Emanuel laughs as he says it’s been happening all week. At the very least, it’s affirmation that the shop will have no problem drawing in shoppers once it’s open for business.

It makes sense why a storefront wasn’t front of mind for Emanuel though. Emanuel has mastered the online drop model. Most Fridays throughout the year, at 12 pm EST, he releases new colorways of his mesh shorts on his web store. Most are solid-colored options with contrasting logos on the left leg that are often inspired by the colors of certain sports teams, but there are occasional drops incorporating bold patterns like all-over paisley or colorful prints inspired by traditional Persian rugs. Sometimes hoodies, sweatpants, or ringer T-shirts are available too. But the shorts are the main attraction, usually selling out in a matter of minutes. From a production standpoint, stocking a site one day a week is much different than having to keep a store stocked from Wednesday to Sunday. But Emanuel knows there will be some minor trial and error to get the numbers just right.

“It’s a completely different concept that I’m still unsure of. With things selling out on the site, the issue was never that I didn’t want everyone to have the shorts. I did, but it was purely a production issue,” says Emanuel. “I want to make sure that everyone can come into this store and leave with a product, instead of looking at the website where it’s sold out with a shrug, I want people to come in here and feel good. I don’t want to turn people away and say there’s no shorts.”

Eric Emanuel NYC Concept Store 6

Non-New Yorkers fear not though. Emanuel says that the Friday online drops will continue. However, the New York store will be home to exclusive colorways of the coveted mesh shorts that cannot be bought anywhere else. 

The store itself is impressive. For anyone who has shopped at 91 Greene Street before, its skeleton is still familiar, a cash wrap at the back of the first floor and stairs leading up to a second floor area to the left, but Emanuel has already made the space uniquely his own. He tapped his close friend John Margaritis of New York Sunshine to help bring his concept to life, which includes a massive window sculpture composed of five basketball hoops in Emanuel’s signature shade of pink. Emanuel said the 19-foot tall display piece was so big it had to be disassembled, fed through a small 18” x 24” door, and reconstructed in the window area to fit. 

Locker rooms filled with logo T-shirts and shorts in various colorways line the right wall of the first floor. The left side is occupied by shelves stocked with folded hoodies, sweat shorts, and tote bags in various colors. Glass cases showcasing trucker hats, three-packs of white T-shirts, and socks are displayed towards the back of the store, which also features a display case full of items that illustrate Emanuel’s effort to support New York’s community of independent creatives—leather trays from Park Avenue Trimming, candles from Joya, and welcome mats brandished with Emanuel’s signature “EE” resembling the large rug made by Noreen Seabrook that sits on the second floor. Emanuel said with these items he also wanted to provide people with something to purchase just in case the shorts are sold out. 

Eric Emanuel NYC Concept Store 2

“I want to be able to expand on more than just shorts. To me, it’s more than just shorts. I love shorts, but I want them to come in here and actually see the product, touch it, and realize I make a lot more than just shorts,” says Emanuel. “That’s what this store is going to help with. It’s going to train the consumer on how amazing all of the products are.”

The second floor will be a rotational space. Currently, it’s home to Emanuel’s latest collaboration with Adidas, which is inspired by the iconic McDonald’s All-American Game high school basketball showcase, that includes Forum Highs, Benassi slides, striped shorts with French fries running across the bottom hem, and tracksuits. With the 2021 game canceled due to the pandemic, the grand opening was a perfect alternative to launch it. As we sit across from one another in two brown leather recliners staring at a wall featuring his latest sneaker collab, Emanuel says it’s still surreal to see his logo beside a mark as iconic as the Mickey D’s Golden Arches. He’s worked with plenty of big brands before like New Era and even Bape, but like many others, he’s nostalgic for the global fast food chain.

“It’s wild. That’s another thing that still hasn’t hit me, but it’s truly incredible. It was a moment even my parents were like, ‘This is nuts. This is top tier.’ So that felt good,” says Emanuel who’s go-to order is a Big Mac (no pickles) and a Coke. “It’s one of the most iconic logos in the world. So to be able to have that sitting next to my logo is incredible. It’s a feeling I couldn’t even describe.”

Eric Emanuel NYC Concept Store 4

Emanuel’s McDonald’s All-American capsule will kick off a long-term partnership with the Three Stripes that will include additional work within the brand’s basketball division. The designer previously collaborated with Adidas on three capsules from 2018 to 2019 before joining forces with Reebok to provide his take on some of its most popular sneakers like the Club C, Question Mid, and Answer 5 throughout 2019 and 2020. 

This summer, Emanuel will also be kicking off his partnership with the non-profit, the Fashion Scholarship Fund, to collaborate with design students on a special capsule. It will eventually be sold at the store with all proceeds going towards student scholarship funds. Emanuel, whose mother is a teacher, says he is excited to use his platform to aid the next generation.

“I just want this to be a place where kids can come and see my vision, but also I want it to be a ‘you can do it too’ story for these kids,” he says. “I want them to be able to come here and think, ‘Eric used to come here and shop. Now this is Eric’s store.’ I want them to look at this and think, ‘Maybe someday, I’m going to take this store.’ And if they do, God bless them.”

Eric Emanuel NYC Concept Store 3

Emanuel hints at more work with New Era coming down the pipeline in the coming months. Close friend and Travis Scott’s DJ, Chase B, is working on a mix that will act as the store’s exclusive soundtrack in the future. Whenever Covid restrictions no longer limit indoor gatherings, he wants to host private concerts and installations to bring the community together in celebration. At the mention of hypothetically working with Syracuse basketball legend Carmelo Anthony one day, the longtime Orange fan simply says it would, “be a dream come true.” But with his Prada x Adidas Superstars kicked up in his recliner, Emanuel says that right now he really just wants to be able to slow down and drink in the moment of his grand opening. 

“I never take the time to sit back and reflect on what actually has happened. I’m always thinking about the next thing,” says Emanuel. “This week, I think I’m just going to actually take it all in for once.”

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