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Intermix CEO Khajak Keledjian Talks the New Palo Alto Store

Multi-brand boutique Intermix – arguably the sexiest member of the Gap family (they were acquired in December 2012) – is set to open its 38th brick-and-mortar inside Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village tomorrow. Founder and CEO Khajak Keledjian reveals the secret to his success –”retail is detail” – and gives us his take on Bay Area fashion – it's “chill-lux”.  

What attracted you to Palo Alto?

Palo Alto is the city of the future. We need to be part of what’s happening right now, especially with fashion and technology merging.

How would you describe Bay Area style?

Laidback. Chill. Polished. 

What do you think will be big hits at the new shop?

Barbara Bui leather jackets, Frame denim, and A.L.C. dresses.

How is the store unique from other Intermixes?

We like to bring a local touch, working with the community. A lot of times, Intermix becomes the hangout where people meet. We’re doing wall panels [from SF-based artisan Aleksandra Zee], reclaimed wood floors. In California, there’s a chill-lux element.

Chill-lux? Tell us what you mean by that.

It’s more relaxed, a daytime lifestyle, yet still designed. I’ll give you an example: It can be a jacket, one that’s not exaggerated in the shoulders. It’s more of a sweatshirt jacket, but it’s still luxury at a $998 price point. Or, with a leather jacket, the leather is a bit more distressed, softer, rather than highly polished with exaggerated shoulders. You know what I’m saying.

What are your priorities as CEO?

To keep improving the brand and differentiating the brand. I have a great team. They do it all. My job is to be at the helm. Today in fashion, if you don’t evolve and you stay safe, you’ll be yesterday’s news. You’re always inspiring the customer, constantly.  We’ve seen our competitors come and go, and the only reason we remain is that we grew the store experience, vendors, new products, our web, social media. You’ve got to be great at many things and to keep pushing the brand forward without alienating your customer. We take pride in being a neighborhood store and learning the nuances of each market. Even though [Palo Alto is our 38th store], we don’t have a chain mentality, which creates complexity to the business, but it’s what makes us different.

What’s it like being part of the Gap brand?

They’ve been great in helping us with efficiencies and growing and scaling the business. They’re a much bigger operation and you know with retail – retail is detail. Last year was a transitional year. We’re still working out what we do on our own and what we share – anything that’s behind the scenes, whether it’s infrastructure, operations, distribution all the way to resources. It’s been a great partnership.

How has the Intermix experience evolved?

It’s service and product that feels great, convenient, and fast. It feels like you put together the look, because all we do is create the platform for the customer. We have over 200 designers from the pull that we have. [Our customers] feel like they’re part of the styling. We don’t dictate – we create and let them play around. Of course, the guardrails are laid down with an eveningwear and day-time section and a mix of recognized labels with emerging brands and different price points. When our customers have that experience they get a high, especially when they’re complimented. That’s our easiest way of advertising, word of mouth. 

What’s exciting for you in retail right now?

Technology is playing a big role in retail. How to keep the consumer engaged, and create newness and excitement? The whole idea of the omni-channel. There is a lot of excitement about how to create constant newness with blogs, social media, and the Internet. It’s 24-hour shopping basically. We’re kind of the editors of the market. We’re curating it to our consumer. We’re one box under 2000 square feet, yet you have the latest greatest, unexpected styling, so that itself creates a lot of excitement. Trying to do that in a department store, you have to be on different floors, working with different stylists. I was in Toronto the other day [in a department store], walking around and by the time I found my team, I had already been in the store for ten minutes. You have to buy your shoes, then go to a different floor to buy your top, then you have to buy your denim, then your jacket. You’ll be spending a good five hours in that store.