C. Wonder Debuts First West Coast Store in Newport Beach

C Wonder Newport Beach at Fashion Island

C. Wonder Newport Beach is the brand’s first West Coast location.

Somewhere around my eleventh birthday, I received a clear acrylic clipboard with my name etched on it from Lilian Vernon, the catalog company credited as one of the original pioneers of personalization. My pre-teen self scoffed at it. What exactly was I supposed to do with a clipboard? Certainly I wasn’t going to be carrying it around with my root beer-flavored Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers and LeSportsac bag.

But now, my adult self, who is fully submerged in a fast-paced, inter-connected sea of gadgets and gizmos galore would gladly welcome such a gift: fun, modern with a twist of preppy personalization.

Monogramming at C Wonder Newport Beach_Fashion Island

Monogramming at C Wonder Newport Beach

Enter C. Wonder, the retail concept launched last year in New York by entrepreneur Chris Burch.

“We think the 21st century is all about making it yours,” said Amy Shecter, president of C. Wonder. “Think of the ways you can customize your life.”

Today, the brand debuts its first West Coast outpost in Newport Beach, Calif., and is on a path to personalize your life, both literally and figuratively — from accessories to home goods to the very way you shop and even check out.

“We think the 21st century is all about making it yours,” said Amy Shecter, president of C. Wonder. “Think of the ways you can customize your life.”

C Wonder Newport Beach at Fashion Island

C Wonder Newport Beach at Fashion Island

I did as I strolled through the nearly 4,000-square-foot store at Newport’s Fashion Island outdoor shopping center. And those ways are numerous at C. Wonder. For an extra $10, I can have my custom monogram embroidered on everything from tote bags to jeans and makeup bags, or I can buy ready-made merchandise with my initials, from cheeseboards to enamel bracelets, ashtrays and more. While not everything at C. Wonder is an initial-stamping opportunity, customization is a unique offering for the brand and has been extremely popular with customers, not to mention those who receive the monogrammed gifts.

“People flip out over [our gifts] and you become a very popular guest and get invited often”

Take the $22 monogram cheeseboard, which has been so popular that customers have been spotted buying them by the

C Wonder Monogram Cheeseboard and ashtrays

C. Wonder hot item: The monogram cheeseboard


“People flip out over [our gifts] and you become a very popular guest and get invited often,” said Shecter. “It’s really about an emotional engagement. When people make it theirs they feel so much more attached emotionally to that item.”

(Note to all my friends: Chance of cheeseboard showers highly likely this year for house warmings, hostess gifts and more.)

So exactly who is the C. Wonder woman, so to speak? While C. Wonder’s management team said that the range of product has drawn in all age groups, the agreed upon sweet spot is a thirtysomething woman. And, fittingly, she probably has only about thirty minutes worth of free time to boot, between juggling career, family, planning dinner parties and scooting off to cardio barre.  But she’s doing it all in style. A wonder woman, indeed (pardon the pun).

C Wonder Red Pea Coat

Coming this fall: C Wonder Pea Coat

“We want to capture every moment of her life,” said Jon Zeiders, vice president of merchandising for C. Wonder. “From her jewelry to a night out on the town to a weekend getaway.”

Retailers have been trying to engage with this elusive 30-something creature for some time now — and mostly with less-than favorable results. Anyone remember Gap’s now-shuttered Fourth & Towne concept or Martin + Osa, the failed concept from American Eagle Outfitters?

Whereas those concepts failed in their earnestness, C. Wonder may just possibly succeed in its fun-ness. The  joy quotient is high. The luxury is attainable. And, most importantly, the brand isn’t simply outfitting her wardrobe but her entire busy life with a one-stop technicolor destination of joie de vivre at a price she can afford.

To achieve this, the brand set up its own office and teams in China to source all items directly. “Part of our success is our direct sourcing model in china, said Shecter. “It allows us certain margin capabilities that we can send through to the customer.”

C Wonder Enamel Bangles

C Wonder Enamel Bangles

What that means to shoppers: $88 skinny jeans, $48 hand-painted enamel bracelets with your initial, nylon totes from $58 to $78 and yes, that monogram cheese board with spreader for $22.

Accessories and home have been among the hottest categories for the company, said Shecter, with accessories sales trending double the initially projected 7 percent to 8 percent, and anything with monograms far surpassing the companies original forecasts. The company also plans a much deeper expansion in the pet category over the coming year, as those sales have also well exceeded expectations. Fido and Fifi want their share, too!

But it’s not simply about the look for less, said Shecter. “We think that there’s been so much focus on bottom-line profitability [at other brands] and it has sort of taken over for consumer experience. … Price alone is not a memorable experience.”

And this is where management hopes to sprinkle in the “wonder” of C. Wonder. Shoppers are offered cookies, pretzels, lemonade and water. They can change the music in the fitting room to suit their mood and check out from anywhere in the store with the mobile point-of-sale system installed on iPod touch devices. (There is not a single cash wrap in any of the stores, only a concierge desk.)

C. Wonder dressing room

Admittedly, the extra attention feels unfamiliar at first. With shoddy service the norm, it’s almost as if a form of retail Stockholm Syndrome had set in for me and I had begun to identify with my captors after years of retail abuse. It was only a mere matter of time, before I one day began heading to the stockroom myself to find my own size!

Not if C. Wonder has anything to say about it.

The company also incorporates giveaways into its customer service model. So much so that it’s built into the business structure.

“We actually have it as a line item on our P&L because it’s such a proposition of our brand,” said Shecter. “We design into the [gift with purchases] and plan them out seasonally. If you have fun in our store, you’re rewarded for it.”

Scheduled fun at the brand’s first West Coast location will include such activities as professional dancers stationed at the front of the store on the weekends.

Sound like retail Utopia? For fans, yes. But detractors accuse C. Wonder founder Burch of knocking off designs from well-known brands, including that of ex-wife, Tory, as well as other luxury names and, most recently in the news, individual artists.

C Wonder Nylon Totes

C. Wonder Nylon Totes

When asked about similarities, C. Wonder’s Zeiders chalks it up to more of, let’s call it, an affordable homage to high quality. “C. Wonder is about offering iconic luxury,” he said. “The quality is at the highest level because of our relationships.”

c wonder roller skates

C. Wonder roller skate

And it’s coming soon to a city near you for you to decide for yourself. The company plans to open 6 to 7 stores this fall for a total of 10 to 11 locations this year and hopes to be at 20 to 30 stores by the end of 2013. Shecter said that Burch is also in the process of launching other brands with a similar “price-value proposition.”

C. Wonder also has its sights set on deeper West Coast expansion, said Shecter, who offered that L.A. was next on the West Coast list, with stores in San Francisco, San Jose, Vegas and Seattle also being eyed. But with an average footprint of 4,000 square feet, finding ample space is key.

“We think the West Coast is a natural next step for us,” said Shecter. “We think not only will they get it, but they will embrace this concept.”

…Or at the very least a fabulous cheese board.

Check out C. Wonder at cwonder.com or visit the new location in Newport Beach at Fashion Island, near the koi pond. Call (949) 644-4376, for more information.

Photos courtesy C. Wonder, John Muggenborg/muggphoto and Michelle Dalton Tyree for Fashion Trends Daily

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Author:Michelle Dalton Tyree

Fashion Trends Daily is the brainchild of Michelle Dalton Tyree. She is the former West Coast Retail Editor for Women’s Wear Daily, Fashion Editor for The Japan Times, and founder of former L.A. luxury boutique Iconology. Michelle is frequently quoted about fashion retail trends in major media outlets such as NPR, KPCC, The Inside Source and the New York Times. She has developed content for many luxury brands and retailers and has written for Allure, Worth Global Style Network, Footwear News and other media outlets.