Friday, October 19, 2001
"Chic" and "trendy" top the list of adjectives shoppers use to describe the Jasmine Sola store on Brattle Street in Cambridge. Ironically, customers have been saying the same things for over 30 years. That's when fashion maven Luciano Manganella first opened the doors. In the last five years, he has opened three more stores on Newbury Street, and last month one debuted at the Chestnut Hill Mall.
Manganella started as an entrepreneur in Cambridge at the age of 22, then opened the Jasmine women's clothing store, and proceeded to establish himself as a successful clothing manufacturer in New York City. His customers included all the major department stores. The company would gross $40 million annually. In the interim, he managed the Jasmine store remotely, adding a Sola store for shoes and Sola Men's with male attire in the late 1980s. He sold out his share of the business to his partner, and moved his wife Stacey and three daughters to Carlisle in 1995.
"I decided to move out of New York for my kids basically," said Manganella. "I wanted to give them an environment much more conducive to growing up." First, the Manganellas looked for a home in the New York area, then expanded the search to Connecticut. By selling his share in the manufacturing business, Manganella could then consider the Boston area.
"Finally I found two beautiful pieces of land, one in Carlisle and one in Dover," he recalled. "One was on the Charles River, one was on the Concord River. They were both exactly 19 miles from Cambridge."
Manganella decided on Carlisle in the end because he preferred the friendly and small-town atmosphere. He bought land on River Road and supervised the design and construction of the home from New York.
Today the stately Victorian towers over beautiful gardens, spacious lawns, and woodland that spans nine acres. A wide veranda encircles the house of about 6,000 square feet of living space. The neoclassic interior features white columns, woodwork everywhere, and lots of light and space. The fashion maven even had the furniture custom-made to his precise specifications.
According to Manganella, his wife had the greatest doubts about moving to the country. Born in Orange, New Jersey, Stacey had lived in New York City most of her adult life. "I told her, `Don't worry, you're going to love it,'" he recalled. "Now she doesn't just love it, she couldn't even think of living anywhere else. She likes the rural aspect and the privacy."
Their three daughters had already begun school in New York City, but made the transition to Carlisle easily. Gabriella is in seventh grade, Juliana in fourth grade, and Sofia started first grade this year.
"Many times I joke about moving back to New York, and they attack me," chuckled Manganella about his girls. "They will never move back outside of this town. They love school. They have a circle of friends here."
Working together as a family
Luciano and Stacey Manganella both work about 40 hours a week. He travels every three weeks, she every six. They share a pact never to travel at the same time, and there is always a parent available for the children.
"The biggest challenge is balancing it all and not leaving anyone feeling they've been short-changed along the way," said Stacey. "Everyone asks, `How do you do it as a mom working 40 hours a week?' You can't do it without good help at both ends. You need good help in your house to do all the things you don't have time to do. In terms of the kids, you need good care providers. On the other hand, you need a good staff at work, people that can handle things. If you have good help, you can make it all work."
There are always multiple cars in the driveway here. In their first years in Carlisle, the Manganellas had a caregiver and a housekeeper, but the focus has changed now that the children are in school all day.
"Now I have a housekeeper that babysits," said Stacey. There's also a landscaper on site often, and an alarm system, both mechanical and human in the form of a visiting handyman, for when the family travels. Meanwhile, the stores are thriving.
"'The horse grows fat under the eye of the master,'" said Stacey. "When you're here and you're watching, and nurturing everything, it really grows into the kind of business that you want."
The couple shared their plans for expansion. They are on a waiting list for the Burlington Mall, and are considering opening stores in New Jersey and Florida.
Building on a heritage of style
"The only thing I knew about America was what I saw in movies in Technicolor," he admitted. He certainly never envisioned a career in fashion.
"I never bought anything in the store until I came to this country," he said. "My mother made all my clothes. Any time I wanted anything, my mother would take a piece of fabric and make exactly what I wanted."
A Japanese friend had a business where he sold leather belts and vests to stores. When the friend decided to return to Japan, he presented yards of olive green leather to Luciano as a parting gift.
"I took this suede, and decided to make a pair of hot pants," said Manganella. "At that time, hot pants were big. I decided to go out and sell it. They were very successful. I'll never forget the blisters on my hands.'
"Very quickly, I had a business. I got a Volkswagen bus. I used to buy remnants of fabric in Boston and started making clothing for boutiques."
In 1970, Manganella opened a 275 square-foot shop in Cambridge on Boylston Street (now Kennedy Boulevard). He named it Jasmine because he found the flower evocative of the hippie clothing of the era.
"The first year I grossed $75,000," said Manganella. "The second year I grossed $175,000, and third year it was $275,000 and it kept on growing." He didn't have credit in the beginning, so everything had to made by hand. His mother ended up making all the garments. In 1973, he moved to a larger space in a better location on Brattle Street, offered to him by the father of one of his happy clients.
Working from the ground up, Manganella gained invaluable experience in manufacturing. He eventually took his expertise to New York and started making clothes there. Some of his labels included Grupo Americano and Luciano Tempesta. His customers included department stores like Ann Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Macy's, and Bloomingdale's.
A U.S. citizen, Manganella takes pride in America. When he first got to New York, he wanted to manufacture clothes totally "Made in America." He recalls meeting with union leaders, and encountering laughter. He discovered the textile industry no longer existed in this country, and that the equipment had been sold abroad. He had to import all fabric and satisfy himself with having the stitching done locally. Manganella also learned that he could not manufacture shoes here. He shook his head in amazement, "The whole industry was destroyed. Aside from work shoes, you cannot make shoes in America." You can hear the culture shock in Manganella's voice. He cannot imagine the same thing ever happening in Italy.
Stepping out to do business
Stacey grew up in Rockaway, New Jersey. She studied buying/merchandising in a two-year program at F.I.T., the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Afterwards, she earned a B.A. in communications from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. She returned to Manhattan to work in sales for a fashion house in the garment district.
"It was really exciting to work there in the 80s," she recalled. "Women were really valued in the work force."
Before long she met Luciano Manganella who worked in the same building. They actually met at a restaurant through his partner who was dating her roommate. Once the couple settled down together and married, Stacey left her job to be a stay-at-home mom. By the time her second daughter was two years old, however, she started thinking about work again. She had visited the stores in Massachusetts, and realized they could use her attention.
"What happened with Stacey is that Stacey loves shoes," simplified Manganella. "Every time we went to the store, she said, 'You know what? I can't buy any shoes in your store. I don't like anything. So I say, 'You know what? Why don't you just buy the shoes for the store, and then you can buy whatever you want?' She said, 'No, I never did that.' I said, 'Don't worry about it, just go out there and if you see anything you like, just buy it. Go shopping like you were buying for yourself.' And in fact, she took over the shoes and it's been a tremendous success."
In fact, she now also handles buying for the accessories and gift lines. "I've brought more practicality to it in terms of footwear and accessories," Stacey said. "I'm a very price-conscious person myself. Some things you just love, but everything you buy has to have function. They have to work for you within your day. You need to have things that not only have to look good, but they have to serve a useful purpose.
"I brought in a lot of footwear that had very fashionable looks, but didn't have those prices that really ate into your pocketbook. Maybe instead of Italy, they were made in Brazil and China. They were $79 or $89 shoes but gave you the look of $129 or $150 shoes."
Stacey recalls her anxiety because her experience was in selling not buying, "The first season was very scary!" In the end, though, the training that first brought her to New York would be what made her valuable in the Boston area.
Moving past September 11
After the move to Carlisle, the Manganellas opened the Newbury Street stores and now the store at the Chestnut Hill Mall. The names Jasmine and Sola became intertwined by customers, and the Manganellas formally joined the nomenclature thisyear.
"The Brattle and Newbury Street stores are very large-scale stores," said Stacey. "We've had this concept that we wanted to be everything to everyone. We wanted gifts, we wanted shoes, we wanted clothing. The problem is when you have a really big store you have to fill it up with merchandise. You have to fill it up with staff. It's much more difficult to control.
"We decided with this new store in Chestnut Hill on a new concept: a 1,400-square-foot store. It's very clean and very edited in terms of the merchandise. Basically these kind of stores are much easier to control, are much easier and less expensive to roll out." Four people work at the Chestnut Hill Mall store. On the other hand, 25 to 30 people are needed to handle the Saturday traffic at the 6,000-square-foot city stores.
Despite the slowdown in retail business after the September 11 terrorist attack, traffic at the stores has picked up. The Chestnut Hill Mall has had numerous interruptions due to bomb scares, but the new store is still performing well. In fact, many customers are those that shopped at the Brattle and Newbury Street locations. They are pleased with the new location with its convenient mall parking. The Jasmine Sola owners are enjoying lower staff and merchandising overhead.
"Stacey is brilliant," said Manganella of his wife and partner at Jasmine Sola. "She has an incredible eye. I'm much more emotional. She's much more realistic.
"She works very hard, harder than I do with the kids. I think she definitely does more than I dobut I take care of the garbage!" Someone has to in Carlisle.
Quality never goes out of style
Despite reports from his customers, Manganella doesn't think of his stores as trendy.
"I never think about style, " said Manganella. He does think about quality, however. According to him, "fabric is everything." Using that as his guide, he classifies 90 percent of merchandise as "complete junk, throw-away clothes."
"I cater to only 5 percent of the public," he continued. "The majority of consumers are attracted to throw-away clothes. If something is $39, it may be good, but if $69, forget about it. Sometimes it's better to buy something that may be a little more, and gives you more of a sense of style." Some customers first came to Jasmine as young working women, and are now bringing their daughters there to shop as well.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito