Sometimes corporations give their employees the freedom to run wild with a new idea or concept. Several years ago, Austyn Zung and her team of designers were given the green light by Ann Inc. — owners of Ann Taylor and Loft — to design the clothing they wanted to wear.
The result was Lou & Grey, a concept that until recently has been a brand extension of casual wear in Loft stores. This fall, the company has opened three of seven planned freestanding Lou & Grey stores, including one which opens Thursday, Oct. 30 at Avalon in Alpharetta.
Despite its apparent success, Lou & Grey still functions much like a start-up, which Zung says is by design. The small team works in a think-tank like environment where experimenting with new ideas and reacting to everything they are dreaming about is encouraged.
“Lou and Grey is a reflection of the life I live and the life all my designers in the studio live,” says Zung, creative director. The team, she says, wanted to design clothing for their “laid-back, easy lifestyle.”
That could mean a lot of things, but Zung says the description applies to any woman who finds herself running around leading a busy life and wanting a certain ease in the way she dresses. The collection started with five pieces of clothing and organically, over time, the assortment kept growing, Zung says.
“[Lou & Grey is about] ease and comfort, but not forgoing style. It is very easy to put together, you can throw it on with slip-ons or a high heel. It is very versatile,” says Zung.
For fall, Zung loves pieces such as a knit jogger pant with track stripes ($59.50) and a flyaway washed leather jacket. There are also over-sized cardigans that reach almost to the knee and come in chunky knits and graphic black and ecru patterns. Texture, says Zung, has always been an important element in designing Lou & Grey.
Dresses include shirt dresses, maxis and tee styles, while jackets feature motorcycle jackets, bombers and deconstructed blazers, all offered in textured fabrics.
Zung says she is a firm believer in creating stylish clothing for a great price. “There is so much going on in the world…we don’t want to spend all of our money on clothes,” she says. Pricing for the collection ranges from $30 for a Lou & Grey signature t-shirt to about $200 for leather clothing.
The store layout is as relaxed as the garments with a dark grey exterior that is modern but warm, Zung says. All the store fixtures are custom-made by artists they work with, she says, and there are lots of natural materials, such as oak flooring and marble tables with copper legs.
The “workshop” is a big island in center of the store where customers can gather as they would around a kitchen island with friends. Toward the rear of the store, near the dressing rooms, is the “library” where huge leather poufs and books await shoppers looking for a place to chill out. “To me the whole space feels very inviting and welcoming and very homey,” Zung says. “The whole point is to stay awhile.”
Avalon was a great opportunity to debut the brand in the metro area given the mix of retailers and the buzz going on about the mixed-use development. The store is located on a stretch that is also home to West Elm, Calypso St. Barth and BCBG. “There is a great combination of different shops and restaurants,” Zung says. “It seems like a great place for people to come together and connect.”
Building relationships is an important aspect of Lou & Grey. The company believes in the makers movement — an effort to support small businesses that create, design and make everything by hand.
“What Lou & Grey stands for is connectivity and bringing people together,” Zung says. “We want this to be a place where people come and have a sense of exploration.”
Lou & Grey, Avalon, 6150 Avalon Blvd, Alpharetta. www.Louandgrey.com.