For their first stand-alone bricks-and-mortar store, Ryan and Adam Goldston, the twin brothers behind the popular performance sneaker brand Athletic Propulsion Labs, avoided taking cues from other retail spaces and instead looked to architecture built with loftier goals in mind — namely, churches and museums.
Which explains why their new shop, which opened the weekend before Thanksgiving at the Grove, is heavy on the drama. With 31-foot ceilings, elongated rectangle layout, travertine stone floors and benches, and recessed shelving where sneaker styles float within ethereally lit wooden frames, the 3,000-square-foot store has a stark but elegant feel.
“We drew inspiration from Los Angeles,” said Ryan, who can be identified by his clean-shaven face (Adam sports an impressive beard). “It’s called the City of Angels, so we wanted to create a heavenly space.”
APL, as the brand is known, was founded in 2009, with the idea of bridging the worlds of luxury and athletic performance. The Goldstons channeled their backgrounds playing basketball and football at USC into a brand that synthesized sport and fashion, an overlap that would help define the decade ahead with the growing popularity of the athleisure market — which is expected to hit $84 billion in the U.S. by 2020 (up from $46 billion in 2016), according to an estimate from the research firm the NPD Group.
APL’s built-in performance technology was so effective that it was famously banned from the NBA due to “undue competitive advantage,” a setback that the brothers savvily finessed into a marketing opportunity. Meanwhile, celebrities like Justin Bieber, Oprah and the entire Kardashian-Jenner brood wore the brand, helping to catapult it further into the limelight. Designing a flagship now allows them to unfurl their aesthetic from physical product to encompass an entire environment. “If we were to build a world,” Adam said, “this is what it would look like.”
From the outside, the store is one extended rectangle, made to look even deeper with a mirrored back wall, an optical trick used to striking effect. Designed with Bernard Dubois in Europe and Peter Hamilton of Studio HT in Santa Monica, the store is meant to conjure certain ideas from the worlds of luxury and sport — think a catwalk, a running track, an airport runway and an automotive racetrack. The square panels along the wall and in which shoes sit, suspended, were designed to evoke works of art hanging in a museum.
In recent months, both fast-fashion chain Forever 21 and luxury department store Barneys New York declared bankruptcy, proving how difficult the retail business is today, as it faces off with fickle consumer tastes, the move to e-commerce, and broader economic anxieties. Still, the brothers see an opportunity to create a unique retail experience.
“People talk about the death of retail,” Adam Goldston said. “If you’re doing something that isn’t special and it becomes a commodity, sure, that’s not going to be around. But when you’re creating special experiences? People love to do things, and if you give them a reason to do something and make it feel special, people will show up.”
As Los Angeles natives, they said opening their first store in the city felt particularly meaningful (each brother has an eye-catching gold APL ring with the L.A. skyline engraved on its side), and for it to be at the Grove shopping center even more so. “We think of the Grove as an oasis in the heart of the city, and we want our store to be an oasis within that oasis,” Ryan Goldston said. “We want people to walk in, have a sense of peace, see the product, and connect with it.”
It all went out without a hitch. In fact, on the morning of the Sunday opening, the brothers were at the store testing the curtain drop that would reveal the storefront to onlookers. It was 5:45 a.m., and they noticed a woman in her 60s, out on her morning stroll. As fate would have it, she was wearing APL sneakers, a design from four years ago in a colorway. Could it be a blessing from the shoe gods above?
“Adam pointed her out and said, ‘That has to mean something,’” Ryan said. “What are the chances?”
Adam smiled and added, “We took it as a sign.”
APL , 189 the Grove Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90036, (between Banana Republic and Sephora) Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.