It’s Called Complex, But the Retail Concept Is Simple

Complex helps turn Maple Avenue into Michigan’s own Rodeo Drive

When business partners Doug Schwartz and Annie LeBlanc opened Annex—a trend-driven boutique that mixed fine and fashion jewelry with accessories—in Birmingham, Mich., in 2005, it was an instant hit. But the longtime friends—who liken Annex to a mini–Barneys New York—soon saw the potential in expanding into apparel and home goods. In 2010, they opened Complex, a 6,000-square-foot, two-level store on Birmingham’s bustling Maple Avenue. The idea is revolving, ephemeral experiences: shop-in-shops and pop-ups that filter in and out of the sprawling space. The pair still owns the ­jewelry-heavy Annex—where you’ll find Iosselliani and Michael Spirito, and many exclusive-to-Michigan lines—as well as an H&M-priced women’s apparel, jewelry, and accessories section called Underground, while overseeing the bigger business. But within Complex, outside retailers buy and merchandise for pop-ups and permanent shop-in-shops at their discretion. “It looks cohesive,” explains Schwartz, “but each buyer curates their own section.” We asked Schwartz to dish on the Complex concept.

Who does the buying and operating for the various sections of the store?

It’s kind of like a Fred Segal [the Los Angeles store with multi-operators], but not so sectioned off. We have a dedicated space for pop-ups, and the stores or brands curate within a white space and do the buying for that specific pop-up, or even a one-day trunk show. For Annex and Underground, Annie and I do the buying. The men’s section is run by a men’s buyer, and he hires his own staff and runs it as a separate store.

What were some of your favorite pop-ups?

Alexander McQueen for Puma was a great one. And there’s a local sneaker guy, Rick Williams. He has a sneaker store called Burn Rubber and does projects under the name District Life. We did a District Life ­pop-up [with] his camouflage print on the walls.

What’s the typical reaction to Complex?

People love it. It’s funny—anyone from out of town gets it right away. It’s people from here that require an explanation. My background is real estate and retail; we’re in the perfect place for this. Our strip is the best in Michigan. It’s a bad comparison, but Maple is sort of like the Rodeo Drive of Michigan.

How do you decorate such a large space?

We decorate museum-style—we use installations. So what the store looks like changes every month. We’ve never had a store that’s [detracted] from the look. There have been some stores that have been in and out sort of quickly, but that’s not bad. It keeps the space fresh.

How does e-commerce come into play?

Obviously, online is huge. People don’t want to leave their house when they shop sometimes. It’s challenging. I personally love going into a space and saying, “Wow, that’s cool.” People come in here and they see all these great installations. Online, yeah, you can see cool clothes. But you don’t get the experience. That’s the part that’s missing for me.

You’ve also launched a product line?

Yes, I started a lifestyle brand, 400oz, in November. The first product I created was a metallic skull-face tablet and mobile phone holder made of solid resin. We use the same chroming process as high-end cars—everything from the product to the packaging is really over the top. The W Hotel Miami recently bought through 700 units.

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