Neiman Marcus to test boutique Cusp will sell cheaper apparel and accessories to young women July 5, 2006 By MARIA HALKIAS The Dallas Morning News After months of speculation, Neiman Marcus Group said Wednesday that it's about to open a new type of store. Cusp as in on the edge or in the forefront of fashion is a boutique for younger shoppers with slimmer wallets. Four pilot stores will open in the next several months, the Dallas-based luxury chain confirmed Wednesday: two in the Washington area and one in Los Angeles. One location hasn't been announced, but there are no plans for a Dallas store while the concept is tested, a spokeswoman said. Cusp will sell women's contemporary apparel, handbags and shoes at lower prices than a Neiman Marcus store. "There's growth in the contemporary fashion category, and some customers prefer boutique shopping, so we wanted to see if we can do it better," said Ginger Reeder, Neiman Marcus vice president. Cusp will target women ages 21 to 45, but it's "not just for a chronologically younger woman," she said. "It's about a younger mindset. It's for a person who isn't about one designer head to toe. It's for a person who likes to mix and match." The stores will have polished concrete floors and exposed ceilings, and merchandise will be grouped "by key looks," she said. "All the red bags or all the hobo bags might be together." The store's eclectic mix will include jewelry and some books and music. Cusp will carry a few higher-priced luxury items, but selectively, Ms. Reeder said. "We may carry two or three styles of Manolo Blahnik shoes or a handbag that's priced higher." The new concept has been a secret project for two years as the chain said it was looking for ways to expand its business. Cusp isn't an answer to Barneys Co-op stores, Ms. Reeder said. "We think it's different." Barneys New York started opening Co-op stores in early 2005 and now has 10 in Houston; New York; Miami; Chicago; Atlanta; Costa Mesa, Calif.; Washington's Georgetown area; and Chevy Chase, Md. Co-op is also for younger shoppers but caters to men and women. In the spring, Barneys plans to open Co-ops in Austin and Los Angeles. The Cusp test stores will be in various types of retail developments. The first opens in late July in 9,500 square feet in the Tyson's Corner mall outside Washington. In early August, an 8,000-square-foot store will open in Century City in Los Angeles, and an 11,000-square-foot location will open in February in Georgetown. The fourth store will open soon after that. Neiman Marcus was acquired last year by private equity firms Texas Pacific Group and Warburg Pincus.