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Lord & Taylor has chose this week to launch the world's most overdue store renovation, and last night, the store's President and CEO Brendan Hoffman invited several hundred members of the press and other luminaries to celebrate what is being touted as "The Ultimate Face-Lift".
Well, a tiny bit of overstatement is always in order whenever a department store needs to promote something, but Lord & Taylor's transformation has been a long time coming... a really long time. Glittery aerialists aside, Hoffman and his team appear to have accomplished the impossible, which was to blow a thick layer of dust off of the venerable store. Rather than gut the immense building, Hoffman and his team have stripped away decades of dreary decor to reveal the the building's elegance. The imposing columns have been whitewashed. Crystal chandeliers have been hung. Cracks in the vaulted ceiling have been filled in, and the once dingy store has suddenly become fresh and inviting.
When ownership of the chain finally settled at Canada's Hudson's Bay Company, the conventional wisdom was that several floors of the store would be closed, and the entire flagship would be downsized, but strategic re-merchandising and a bit of TLC brought on sales increases, so not only was no space sacrificed, but an entire floor was given over to reviving Lord & Taylor's home furnishings department leading to the city's (and possibly the world's) largest Lauren by Ralph Lauren Home department.
To make sure that everyone saw the whole store, Music and every imaginable sort of beverage from beer to champagne was scattered over seven floors. A brass band played the red carpet before we even got into the store, and on the main floor, we were greeted by the aforementioned aerialists (above) and music from suitably fashionable former model DJ Sky Nellor. We managed to catch Mayor Bloomberg who stopped by to deliver a special proclaimation to Hoffman. He arrived in the wake of Special Guest singer Ciara who breezed through the floor before being whisked away. Up the escalator, we found something we would never have bet on seeing at the genteel store, famed rock and roll party boy Andrew W.K. spinning his peculiar mix of hard rock and disco on 2 along with tortilla chips and mini-empanadas. Up on 3 was Jazz, on 4 was DJ Lexey etc. etc. By the ninth floor, we were rewarded for our journey with Godiva Chocolates, but it was the 10th floor that was jammed. Here was the VH1 Classic Behind the Music Lounge, where all the V.I.P. guests were shuttled along with sliders, chips and an abundance of Sigmund Pretzels. This men's floor was also where the beer was, and the throngs guzzling Stella Artois proliferated up there as everyone tried to get a look at Ciara along with smattering of erstwhile supermodels (Paulina Porizkova, Eve Salvail) reality show stars (Real Housewife Jill Zarin & one of those insufferable Logo A-Listers) and their entourages.
VH1 also saw to it that the store was populated with student musicians performing which was an inspiring alternative to the more obvious musical options for such a huge event. Overall, it was not the kind of glittery Page-Six ready event that you might expect from Barneys or Bergdorf's, but this was Lord & Taylor who seemed to care less about having socialites photographed in their store than about getting real customers back in there to shop. Their efforts are paying off. Business is up at the Fifth Avenue flagship, and if they can transfer that momentum to the rest of their stores, then they will be well prepared for the inevitable day when Nordstrom finally arrives in Manhattan.