This weekend we checked out the relaunch of Liz Claiborne's signature lines, and to do that, we had to go someplace we usually avoid...Macy's.
It's not that we have anything inherently against the giant department store chain, it's just that shopping at the Herald Square flagship often feels like a chore, if only because schlepping from one department to another requires a walk of several city blocks —literally, and then there are the tourist hordes, but we hit it on a relatively quiet Sunday when there were no major sales happening (a rare occasion), so it wasn't too painful.
We entered on the Seventh Avenue side —the men's side— because we were most interested to see how John Bartlett had revamped the previously moribund Claiborne men's collection. Regular readers know how fond we are of John, and although we knew he was selling the label at his own West Village boutique, we wanted to see how it looked in its natural habitat: the mid-range department store.
Unfortunately, we will have to wait for that experience.
We went up to the second floor, where the sportswear collections live. It's like a giant brand mall up there, with a big shop for Tommy Hilfiger, another big section for Calvin Klein, a Perry Ellis area (featuring nothing that resembles anything from the Spring runway collection we saw last fall), all with their own vendor-supplied fixtures and graphics. They are all dwarfed by a massive Polo shop which is larger than many of Ralph Lauren's own freestanding stores, but appears to be filled only with endless permutations of the label's signature polo shirts, jeans and khakis. Further back, there was DKNY, Lacoste, some private label brands and then, the dreaded Tommy Bahama (Really? Tropical shirts and baggy cargo shorts? Still?). There was no sign of Claiborne, and after I scoured the rest of the men's department it was pretty clear that the line wasn't in the store yet. We were a little bewildered. After all, if anyone would be selling this label, we thought it would be Macy's, but we pressed onward towards the women's side of the immense store.
After a full crosstown walk across a surprisingly tidy and well kept third floor (Really. In Macy's!), we had no trouble finding Isaac Mizrahi's revamped Liz Claiborne collection. There was no mistaking Isaac's signature white-on-white shop design or his favorite lemon/lime/grapefruit colors that had taken up residence along the Broadway wall and extending well into the floor. After a sticky few years with Macy's, Liz has been given a place of honor presiding over the other moderate brands like Lauren and Michael by Michael Kors. Unlike Bartlett, Isaac's name is not on the label, but his influence is plain to see, and the quality is a major jump from his line for Target (which always looked pretty rumpled to us in the store). There are few cutting edge looks here, but Mizrahi's stock in trade is colorful, updated classics which he appears to have delivered in abundance. The line looked appealing and wearable with just enough whimsical accent pieces to keep displays interesting. While the prices are much higher than Target's they fall firmly within the moderate range, and the overall set-up was impressive and attention-getting with lots of signs reminding customers that Isaac himself will be on hand this Thursday evening March 26th at 6 PM to kick off the new shop.
But what of Bartlett's men's line? Later on we hit his shop on Seventh Avenue which, as it turns out, is the only place in New York carrying the Claiborne line for Spring. Apparently, there is some real disappointment that Macy's is not on board, although we found a small selection of the more basic looks available online at Macys.com. It's too bad, because what we saw in John's cozy shop was classic enough for any guy but, updated and smart looking, including some well cut casual pants —and if anyone knows how to cut men's pants, John Bartlett does. We are generally waaay to snobby for anything as mass market as Claiborne, and we would would wear any of it. Plus, the prices are good, and a pop-up shop to promote it may be in the works. We hear Lord & Taylor is thisclose to picking it up, and we hope they do, because the kind of blandness we saw at Macy's could easily use a shot in the arm from John.
Isaac Mizrahi for Liz Claiborne New York (Official Site)
Claiborne by John Bartlett (Official Site) and at Macys.com