KATHERINE BERNARD GOES SHOPPING:

Insta-Dressing In SoHo Edition

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Photo by Emily Andrews for The New York Times

A new Critical Shopper has arrived at the Thursday Styles today. We don't know if Katherine Bernard will take over Molly Young's women's shopping duties permanently, but she does give us a respectable survey of the new Balmain boutique that quietly opened its doors earlier this month in SoHo. Don't worry if you are concerned that glittering label's thirst for publicity is starting to wane. The official opening party is scheduled as this year's Met Ball after-party on Monday night. Now you can picture the requisite Kardashian/West/Jenner extravaganza, and our shopper reminds us that it is almost impossible to make mention of the Balmain brand without also using the words Kardashian and Instagram. She also notes pointedly that Instagram followers do not necessarily translate into throngs of eager customers. Despite Balmain's social media following of multiple millions, the store is a quiet and serene environment in neutral shades of beige and black when she visits mostly because clicking 'like' and 'follow' are free, but owning single piece of Balmain apparel beyond a $365 t-shirt requires four figure investment at minimum. And what of those clothes? They are tight.

These clothes are honest. They hold you. My designer friend tells me that the fabric embrace comes from technically advanced four-way stretch. There’s pull and lift. There’s no darting or corseting, it’s just extremely special fabric.

Ultimately, the experience seems like a taste of fantasy, complete with a salesperson impersonating a paparazzo. For better or worse, Balmain and its once reserved designer Olivier Roustieng has thrown their lot in with social media stars and red carpet glitz. The rabid rush for last Fall's H&M collaboration collection proved that, so if runway walking  in glittery opulence is your aspiration (and within your means), your boutique has arrived.

Critical Shopper: The Balmain Army Steps Out By Katherine Bernard (NYTimes)
Balmain 100 Wooster Street between Spring & Prince Streets, SoHo


JON CARAMANICA GOES SHOPPING:

Chelsea Homecoming Edition

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Photo: Stefania Curto for The New York Times

There isn't exactly a Critical Shopper column in this week's Thursday Styles, but Jon Caramanica wrote about going to Barneys in Chelsea, so it seems to be one in all but name only. As per usual, the review begins with a little nostalgia. This time its our quasi shopper's memories of a Brooklyn childhood where the thought of Barney's (It had an apostrophe once) seemed too fantastical to be real (except that Mom had been quietly shopping there for herself all along). But that was a different Barneys than the one that currently sits on Seventh Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets. Even Caramanica notes that this new flagship store seems to be missing something, or a lot of things. "It’s like the airport version of the Madison Avenue store, perhaps more a suggestion of actual Barneys than the thing itself," and then, "It’s the MP3 to the FLAC file of the main store," —remember, he's a music writer too. Well put, although, to us it's more the the remix that bears almost no resemblance to the original track. 
After all, Barneys in Chelsea is essentially a women's store now. The store that built itself on men's suits now devotes only a fraction of its space to any kind of men's apparel, and there is neither a traditional tailored suit nor a necktie to be found in the entire place. Caramanica calls the merchandising scheme "ruthless" allowing for only the most reliably profitable items, which is why, like in any other department store the main floor is an "ocean of handbags", and Chelsea Passage, the home department named after the neighborhood where it was born, has been neglected altogether. In the end, our shopper finally finds satisfaction in the basement in the chair of the Blind Barber, which tells us that maybe the inevitable comparisons to other versions of the store miss the point at the new Chelsea Barneys.

Living the Barneys Life By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Barneys New York 101 Seventh Avenue at 16th Street, Chelsea


MOLLY YOUNG GOES SHOPPING:

Madison Avenue Bookworm Edition

24CRITIC5-blog427It's been a few weeks since The Shophound has caught up with the Critical Shopper over at the Thursday Styles. This week, it is Molly Young's turn to take on the city's newest boutiques, and she has made her way to the new Sonia Rykiel boutique on Madison Avenue. Hey, we were there too when it opened just about a month ago, so we are very well familiarized with the store's unique red lacquered bookshop aesthetic which our shopper describes as "eye-catching in a way that makes passers-by halt, whip off their sunglasses and peer inside"
And that's half the game right? 
While The Shophound was more taken with the store's design and décor, Our shopper hones in on the clothes, having reportedly just over purged her closet. Here is where we learn that Sonia Rykiel, though always a label steeped in a woman's point of view from its flame-haired founder to its current designer Julie de Libran, is perhaps not for every woman. Of a rainbow striped jacket she concludes, "On a taller person, the fit would have been slouchy. I looked like a garden gnome." But we were most surprised by the critique of a pleated dress in 'creamsicle' polyester for $2,190, "it should have been chiffon, at that price". Well, Molly, chiffon and polyester are not mutually exclusive. Chiffon is a particular weave of fabric, like satin or corduroy or gabardine. Polyester is a fiber out of which you can make that fabric and many others —but we knew what you meant. Your copy editor didn't, though.

Critical Shopper: French Lit, Stripes and Cigarettes at Sonia Rykiel By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Sonia Rykiel 816 Madison Avenue between 68th & 69th Streets, Upper East Side


JON CARAMANICA GOES SHOPPING:

Make It Depressing Edition

31CRIT-BROOKFIELD-PLACE-slide-UQ0P-jumboToday's Thursday Styles features steady Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica's take on the beginning of the retail cavalcade that has descended upon the neighborhood immediately surrounding the World Trade Center's memorial as well as its re-imagining still under construction.
And he's finding it all a bit jarring.
Rather than focusing on just one store, he takes on the entirety of the Brookfield Place luxury mall featuring fresh new outposts from Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna, Bottega Veneta an more among its roster of international status brands. Our shopper's overall thesis this week is that we shop to forget —to anesthetize ourselves against the adversity we encounter in life. In this case, he is obviously making a reference to the tragedy of September 11, 2001 which haunts the financial district in general, and he is really giving in to the ghosts. Of the mall he says, "It is a testament to the resilience of our real estate developers, if not our national mood. Here, at the heart of the city’s suffering, we are being told to shop: To spend is to be healed."
Perhaps we are somehow protesting the specter of international terrorism down town with the kind of luxury and profligate consumption specifically abhorred by our jihadist enemies, but hey, it's New York. We're just being ourselves. By that token, we could argue that the city's sprawling shopping culture exists to distract us from so many of the more disturbing aspects of our city. After all, it's not that we have seen a homeless person or two on Fifth Avenue, but that any city resident has encountered so many in every neighborhood no matter how tony it may be, not to mention everywhere in the public transit system.
But back to today's column, where our shopper has faintly admiring words for the just opened Gucci shop at Brookfield Place. It is the first New York example of the label's new creative director Alessandro Michele's re-imagined retail format for the brand. It's not all that different from the old format which features lots of handbags up front with lots of logos and red and green striped webbing. It's a respectable update that nicely shows off Michele's relentlessly eclectic, dressed-in-the-dark Resort collection, but The Shophound has to admit that we have had a lot harder time working up enthusiasm for a designer who thinks that putting a high, chunky heel on a gold leather version of you grandmother's house slippers makes than somehow appealing.
It does not.
Caramanaica calls the lineup of stores at Brookfield Place "shrug worthy" and it's true in the sense that it appears to includes not a single boutique that doesn't exist somewhere else in Manhattan in a larger and more comprehensive version. Perhaps it is the relentless retail drumbeat of the Holiday Shopping season combined with this year's weirdly balmy Holiday Season that has put his mood off, but still, he doesn't leave empty-handed. Our shopper remembers his professional purpose and picks up a smart overcoat at nearly 60% off from Club Monaco along with a bracing scented candle from Nest.

They all smelled the same until finally I landed on one — Sicilian tangerine — that was almost acidic. It had bite, the scent creeping up my nostrils and scraping away. Instinctively, I winced, but at the same time began to salivate. For a moment, death felt far away.

It's tough to stay down on shopping when it is an explicit part of one's work assignment. The choices are to rally or resign, but everyone is entitled to a case of the Holiday Blues once in a while. Like the neighborhood around Ground Zero, however, one eventually has to pick oneself up and carry on.

Critical Shoper: Shop the Pain Away By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Brookfield Place New York 200 Vesey St at West Street, Financial District


MOLLY YOUNG GOES SHOPPING:

Middle Of the Road On 5th Avenue Edition

03CRITICAL4-articleLarge-v2In this week's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Molly Young discovers the Lands' End pop-up store on Fifth Avenue, but what strikes The Shophound is not so much her assessment of the store, but her childhood take on the mail.
"There were days as a kid when I was so bored, I organized my entire day around the mail delivery"
As a a kid, in the pre-digital era, the mail delivery could be a magical moment. There are so many potential delights in the mailbox like magazines or catalogs and always knowing that none of the bills are for you.
This is all get to the point that the boring old Lands' End catalog that she would discover pushed through the mail slot has come to life in Midtown Manhattan where she notes that the updated, elevated merchandise seems to co-exist among the same bland goods seem that have been populating the catalog for 30. Maturity seems to have given her a new appreciation for practical but potentially dowdy Land's End standards like full length a down coat's versatile zippers and hood, "The younger me would have been blind to these components, but time has a way of turning defects into assets. Now I just want to be weatherproof," she writes. The vanity sizing doesn't hurt either.
Ultimately, our shopper isn't all that excited by the store or its gimmicks like a "selfie station", which reveals itself as a trope to capture customer information, but manages to walk away with a very Lands' End-y purchase, new gloves. The store's general modestly seems counterintuitively refreshing among the forced Holiday merriment that descends upon retailers the end of the year. "If the store were a party, it would be the kind where the guests are gone and the dishes washed by 11 p.m.," and sometime that's just enough.

Critical Shopper: Lands’ End Updates Its Image By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Lands' End Holiday Pop-Up Shop 650 Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street, Midtown
Previously:
Pop-Up Proliferation: Nautica & Lands' End Pop-Ups Push Upscale


DOWNTOWN DANCE:

Where Will Saks Fifth Avenue's Separate Downtown Men's Store Go?

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Like many bits of retail news, the announcement that Saks Fifth Avenue will open a stand-alone Men's Store in Downtown Manhattan was casually dropped as an aside in a news article concerning larger business issues. In a New York Times profile of Saks CEO Marc Metrick that ran over the weekend, the plan for a men's store was revealed in a discussion of Metrick's ambitious overall scheme for the department store in New York City. 

"Saks. . . is opening a second store in Manhattan, at Brookfield Place in the fast-growing financial district, and will follow with a third location, a men’s-only store, also downtown."

That's all we know so far.
Stand-alone men's store.
Downtown.
It's not totally surprising. Saks has a few freestanding men's only stores in the chain which tend to exist when a longtime full-line store nearby needs more room for women's apparel and an appropriate real estate opportunity makes itself available. In Beverly Hills, Saks took over the former I.Magnin store a few steps away from its Wilshire Boulevard flagship for a men's store in the 1990s (pictured above). In Washington DC, the chain opened a men's satellite in a former Filene's Basement space on Wisconsin Avenue that had originally been a Raleigh's men's store when expansion of its decades-old Chevy Chase store a few blocks away was nixed by local zoning boards. The difference here is that a men's store will be presumably built without having been gestated as a department within a full line Saks store and being spun off for more selling space. We know that Saks is coming to Brookfield Place next year with a new concept store currently under construction. Will the proposed men's store be a nearby counterpart in a neighborhood that, due to its business center heritage has traditionally been more welcoming to menswear retailing anyway? It seems plausible. Saks' two men's floors at the Fifth Avenue flagship certainly encompass enough square feet and merchandise to constitute a sizable stand-alone store by themselves, so the merchandising part of the store is mostly covered. The main questions here are where and when?

Saks Is Shaking Off Retail Gloom With a Fifth Avenue Face-Lift (NYTimes)


MOLLY YOUNG GOES SHOPPING:

More Than Goth On Madison Avenue Edition

29CRITICAL1-articleLarge-v2À propos of the days before Halloween, Critical Shopper Molly Young makes an excursion to the recently opened Givenchy boutique in today's Thursday Styles. Riccardo Tisci's version of Givenchy is offering possibly the darkest, witchiest vision in luxury fashion these days, and while it is frequently described as "Goth", it has really evolved into more of a moody, baroque aesthetic with tinges of mysticism. Our shopper seems to enjoy her visit noting that the gallery-like boutique seems to welcome all,

Givenchy is also a great place to encounter beauty, no matter what your tax bracket. Looking is free, after all. The salesmen are warm and offer coffee. You can stare at $22,000 velvet dresses and silk blouses with an all-over centaur print ($4,195). You can flip through books by Marina Abramovic.

It's the sort of successful brand statement that makes sense of the fashion in-joke of using competitor Donatello Versace as this season's campaign model, and given the dodgy job security of running a Parisian couture house these days, a strong brand image is Tisci's best form of employment insurance.

Critical Shopper: Givenchy on Madison Avenue Mixes Metaphors, Beautifully By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Givenchy 747 Madison Avenue at 65th Street, Upper East Side


MOLLY YOUNG GOES SHOPPING:

Versace Diffusion Profusion Edition

08CRITICAL5-blog427In today's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Molly Young informs us that a Versus boutique has quietly materialized on Greene Street, not far from the downtown home of its mother brand, Versace —and she is not entirely sold on it.
As usual, there is an extensive introduction to the label, a relic of the brand's '90s high point when there appeared to be an infinite number of sub-brands connected to Gianni Versace —Versus, Istante, Versace Jeans Couture, V2 Versace Classic, Versace Sport etc. etc...
With the company's more streamlined 21st Century model, the Versus label has been exhumed as a laboratory of sorts for emerging designers who can be trusted to keep the line's point of view well within the hidebound Versace aesthetic of sex, skin and Rock and roll. Current creative director Anthony Vaccarello seems to fit that bill nicely, turning out sexy dresses and separates that cost about a quarter of what analogous pieces in the premier Versace collection would go for, but our shopper is not swayed to even go through the perfunctory try-ons, wondering exactly who these offerings are aimed at. "Who is the Versus girl? I couldn’t extrapolate from customers on any of my visits, because there weren’t any," she writes in a cold jab that may say more about the store's quiet arrival than the public's appetite for Versace at a price. Still, this version of Versace seems more watered down to our shopper than re-interpreted, as her shopping companion suggests, “It seems like the kind of brand that would thrive in the duty-free section of an international airport”. Perhaps the shop's saving grace will be that SoHo remains teeming with tourists primed to respond to this sort of thing.

Critical Shopper: Versus Versace Store in SoHo: Caught in Transition By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Versus Versace 75 Greene Street between Broome & Spring Streets, SoHo


JON CARAMANICA GOES SHOPPING:

Almost But Not Quite Edition

01CRITICAL1SUB-blog427In today's Thursday Styles, Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica is extra critical.
First, he spends several paragraphs on the typical New York apartment dweller's closet dilemma. Does an over stuffed closet mean you have too many clothes or not enough closet space? Who can say –besides Marie Kondo whom we don't even want to get started with.
This philosophical storage discussion is all to lead us to Tomorrowland, not the section from the Disney theme parks, and certainly not the cinematic misfire from earlier this year, but the Japanese sportswear brand which just opened a sprawling boutique on Broome Street in SoHo (pictured at left).
The problem with Tomorrowland's wares is not that they aren't appealing, but are they appealing enough to try to cram into your already overstuffed closet/armoire/dresser/makeshift under-bed storage apparatus? It seems pretty clear that our shopper has not yet come to terms with his own wardrobe space issues. "What you have to watch out for are inessentials that look and feel like essentials," he writes, "clothes that are elegantly designed, well made, reasonably priced and seemingly unique, but which don’t solve an unsolved problem."
This is a problem peculiar to cities like New York where there is an embarrassment of retail riches to choose from, and one has the luxury of discernment. You might not necessarily have to pounce on the first great thing you see because, in all likelihood, there will be five more great things around the corner, anyway.
So he gets picky.

It was hard not to get excited looking at these clothes, though when I tried them on, that enthusiasm faded slightly. The fabrics felt just a hair too deliberate, even for the colder seasons.

It is all gorgeous stuff, but nothing there sings out "You must have me now!" in the right key. In fairness, our shopper concedes that the store is in its early days here, and given a couple of seasons, could hone its offerings better to the wants and needs of New Yorkers —or maybe just to our shopper. Tomorrowland may be better tomorrow, but The Shophound stopped by for a quick look last week, and we thought that Tomorrowland looked pretty damn good for today.

Critical Shopper: Reason to Keep Coming Back to Tomorrowland By Jon Caramanica
Tomorrowland 476 Broome Street between Wooster & Greene Streets, SoHo


MOLLY YOUNG GOES SHOPPING:

Seattle Comes To SoHo edition

24CRITICAL5-articleLargeThis week's Thursday Styles sends Critical Shopper Molly Young to SoHo for a survey of Totokaelo, the vertically sprawling new boutique from Seattle that has become an auspicious addition to Manhattan's shopping roster. Our shopper, a Pacific Northwest native, offers an illuminating interpretation of Totokaelo's abundance of luxurious but loose, often shroudlike garments, "There’s something about the temperature and moisture content of the air there that makes a person want to swaddle herself in garments that are half hug, half anesthetic." The same appeal holds in New York, which has its own pressures that might make a person want to spend the day swathed in something cozy.
After a detour into the store's subterranean men's department —a literal man-cave— Young ascends the many levels of women's offerings to further explore. Totokaelo's signature look is not to be approached without some expertise, however, as our shopper describes some of the items she has encountered as making her look like "a sack of cornmeal" and, comfort benefits notwithstanding, "uniquely unflattering to all of my body parts". As for a peculiar preponderance of jumpsuits, our shopper writes, "If you’re in the mood to hit the playground or just to obscure your secondary sex characteristics, any of these will do the job."
Well, that is a very specific customer, but as we know, in New York, there is a store for every kind of person.

Critical Shopper: Jumpsuits, 7 Days A Week at Totokaelo’s SoHo Store By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Totokaelo 54 Crosby Street between Broome & Spring Streets, SoHo.