It only took Rony Vardi 15 years to venture across the Brooklyn Bridge to open her first Catbird store in Manhattan beyond her Williamsburg retail address.
Fortunately, it took her less time to spread her wings to California where on Aug. 18 she is opening her first West Coast location at the Platform LA shopping center in Culver City, an area of Los Angeles that is home to Sony Pictures.
“Los Angeles is our second-highest market outside of New York, which is true for many brands. And we have done many pop-up stores there, both short-term and long-term. They have always been wonderful,” said Vardi, who founded cult indie jewelry brand Catbird in 2004 with a teensy-tiny store in Williamsburg, around the corner from her rent-controlled apartment where she lived then.
But it was time to fly the coop and head to a city that could be considered the antithesis of New York. In New York, people walk. In Los Angeles, people drive. In New York, people frequent independent neighborhood stores or enclosed malls. In Los Angeles, consumers go to outdoor malls.
That’s why Platform LA seemed the right choice. It is a contemporary outdoor mall with lush landscaping that houses independent retailers including Janessa Leone, Guild and Wyeth, catering to shoppers searching for something a tad different.
Catbird creates many of its delicate pieces at its Brooklyn Navy Yard headquarters where a five-member artistic team and craftspeople work mostly with recycled 14-karat gold and recycled diamonds. Retail pieces range in price from $48 for a solid gold stacking ring to a $15,000 engagement ring. There are delicate gold necklaces, swimming pool bracelets, earrings, chokers, rings and charms.
“Many of our customers have been with us since the beginning,” Vardi said, noting that 80 percent of shoppers are females between the ages of 25 and 35. “We have very high repeat customers. We have a lot of interesting and unique special pieces that not everyone is going to buy. Like a spider charm, or an ice cream charm or a snail charm. There are all sorts of delightful surprises as well as classic designs.”
Catbird is also known for its welded pieces, launched in 2017, which are permanently soldered onto the body. They have been a big hit, and often stores have lines of customers waiting to get “zapped.”
The jewelry collection, which is co-created with Leigh Plessner, has embraced retail since its beginning because e-commerce was still in its formative stages then. But developing brick-and-mortar has been calculated. “Clearly we have taken retail expansion very slowly,” Vardi said. “Retail is a way to get more customers and meet your existing customer. From talking to my marketing team, it costs so much more money to get new customers than it used to. Other ways people are getting new customers is opening retail.”
Catbird opened its second store in 2019 in the SoHo district of New York City and recently unveiled its third store at Rockefeller Center. Last year, it revamped its Williamsburg flagship store, moving it to an entire building and increasing the size tenfold from its original 220 square feet.
The Los Angeles store will encompass 650 square feet and have a rough, industrial feel with concrete floors and spacious windows. It is being furnished with antiques and found objects, which is how Catbird furnished its other stores.
Once this new space is up and running, Vardi is contemplating a second Los Angeles location. “I think Culver City,” she said, “is a great place for us to sort of determine what our next steps might be.”