FLAGSHIP FLASH:

Barneys Is Open In Chelsea
The Good, The Bad & The Conspicuously Absent

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A heavy snow was not anywhere near close enough to keep excited shoppers away from the new Barneys New York flagship that (their designation) that opened Monday on the site of its original men's store on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Sixteenth Street. Barneys' management has been very clear that they had no intention of recreating the old store, and they certainly have not. It is best to go in without looking for the Chelsea Barneys you once knew and loved, and judge the store on its own terms, but the new store does point out just how far current Barneys management has taken the store from its roots now that it has returned to the scene.
Let's begin with what's good about the store. For starters, Barney's current, extremely minimalistic interior design style looks a lot better in Chelsea that it does on Madison Avenue. While slabs of marble, steel and glass have made parts of the home base mother ship look disturbingly like the lobby of a very expensive office building that has been filled with handbags, similar elements have been employed to much better effect downtown in a much smaller space. A broader array of materials and more generous use of carpeting on the upper floors give the store the more intimate ambiance that befits a luxury establishment. The decor is also much more integrated, continuing from floor to floor as opposed to the Madison Avenue location where one floor may feel well appointed and another may have been stripped down to the point where the 'minimalism' just feels minimal (read: cheap). New display fixtures with freeform shaped bases appear throughout the store and with the central spiral staircase they both create unifying visual elements. In an uncharacteristic move for the anti-nostalgic store, the staircase deliberately recalls the Andrée Putman designed steps from the former women's store which still stands around the corner on 17th street as part of the Rubin Museum. As for the merchandise, the women's floor does a fairly good job of condensing many of the offerings from uptown on a single floor. There is some fine tuning left to be finished, and some collections had clearly not yet found their final placements on the floor, but the presentation was strong. In fact, though the Meatpacking District is several blocks away, the new Barneys looks to be some serious competition for Jeffrey, the only real high-end designer level multi-brand store currently remaining in that rapidly evolving neighborhood. Though the main floor is designated for Women's and Men's accessories, it does recreate the "sea of handbags" effect from uptown and the men's section is pushed into a smaller section toward the back —which brings us to the store's drawbacks, chief among them being the way that Barneys, once New York's greatest all-around men's store, has marginalized its longtime core business.
It's not that, the men's department is totally pushed aside. It gets all of the selling space on the third floor. Unfortunately, it has to share that floor with an as yet unfinished Fred's restaurant, so overall, there are substantially fewer square feet devoted to men than there are to women. This may have been something of a miscalculation, because as it happens, when The Shophound visited the store on Monday afternoon, all floors were busy with shoppers curious to see the new Barneys, but the men's floor was packed like it was the height of the Holiday season. Chelsea is, after all, still Chelsea. And one of the not particularly well-kept secrets of Barneys success as a store for adventurous men's fashion was that it was situated right near a couple of neighborhoods known for their predominantly male populations that tended to be more interested in fashion that the average guy (read: gay). Though Chelsea has changed since the 90s, it hasn't changed that much. What's glaringly missing from the store, however, is any hint of the traditional men's clothing that once filled the entire space that the new store occupies. Except for a very modest counter of casual shirts and sweaters on the main floor, the entire men's offering is comprised of high-end designer collections. While the Madison Avenue store still has a floor devoted to pricey European tailored clothing for men, Barneys has, in recent years, essentially walked away from broad and deep assortments of men's clothing that made it a shopping destination even before Chelsea was a bustling gay neighborhood. There is not a Brioni blazer to be found in the new store, nor is there a Kiton suit or a Zegna tie (or any ties at all as far as we could tell). The new store makes it very clear how Barneys management cares about traditional clothing as a core business which is not at all. On the other hand as a men's designer collections store, it is excellent, and the spacious shoe department —again, totally devoid of traditional, classic footwear— is much more comfortable and easier the shop than the renovated one on Madison Avenue, and the fancy sneakers were moving briskly. Another element borrowed from uptown is the lower level beauty department which also includes a small branch of the Blind Barber. Unfortunately, here is where the dramatic spiral staircase falls flat. It's landing takes up so much space in the middle of the somewhat less expansive floor that it pushes the counters to the edges, making the otherwise well merchandised department feel cramped. It also points out the fact that the renovation of the space included the removal of the escalators. While they may not be essential to a store this size, they are rarely unwelcome to customers who may occasionally tire of waiting for elevators or climbing stairs. Also missing is the well liked home section, so any hopes of seeing the Chelsea Passage department return to its namesake neighborhood will be disappointed.
Criticisms aside, the new Chelsea Barneys succeeds in filling a void that was left when its was shuttered on the same spot about a decade and a half ago. Once again Chelsea has a premier fashion shopping destination that can serve as an anchor for the surrounding blocks which, surprisingly, haven't changed a great deal. Despite the fact that Barneys has so little regard for the original store that once stood there that it completely redesigned the facade which had been pretty much untouched, the store still manages to recapture the feeling of being in a special, off-the-beaten-path establishment far removed from the bustle of midtown luxury shopping. Though it is sure to attract its share of tourists, it feels again like a unique, luxurious neighborhood emporium that could only exist in New York. That's no small feat, and it should be enough to make it thrive again —perhaps enough to expand back into the available corner building on 17th street that completed the original men's store and allow it to present a full representation of the Barneys concept.

Barneys New York Downtown 101 Seventh Avenue at 16th Street, Chelsea


WEST VILLAGE INS & OUTS:

Paul Smith Is In
Mulberry, Black Fleece & Marc Jacobs Men's Are Out On Bleecker

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Remember when Bleecker Street was such a hot retail address that the older stores were being pushed out and replaced with new designer boutiques at a breakneck pace?
Well, that's over.
As luxury labels retrench in the face of economic uncertainty, Bleecker street is suddenly looking less like a hotspot and more like a tony neighborhood in a holding pattern, perhaps a couple of years behind the neighboring Meatpacking District where once precious retail space is now available in greater abundance. Since the Holiday season, A few more Bleecker Street storefronts have gone empty. Mulberry has quietly exited its outpost at 387 Bleecker leaving it with larger stores on both Madison Avenue and Spring Street in SoHo. Perhaps a tiny store that benefited from Bleecker Street's hotspot-of-the-moment glamor is no longer such an imperative when there are other bigger stores in more heavily trafficked neighborhoods with more potential for sales volume and brand visibility.
Mulberry is not the only company reconsidering its retail strategies. Marc Jacobs is in still the midst of re-inventing his own label. Since the Marc by Marc Jacobs label that made up most of his Bleecker Street stores' offerings has been discontinued, his West Village colony of shops is in a transition of its own. It was always a kind of free-flowing arrangement with stores regularly switching places. With Want Les Essentials de la Vie having already having taken over one of the designer's former shops, the latest branch to bite to the dust is the teeny tiny men's store whose windows are now blacked out. That leaves Jacobs with only his original shop at 403/405 Bleecker, Bookmarc across the street at #400 and the beauty store at #385, which is still a strong showing, but we are still wondering how things will settle retail wise for Marc. His men's store has always been problematic. Having bounced around from one of Jacobs' West Village locations to another, it always seemed to wind up in the same stall-like space that could only hold a few customers at a time and seemed like a poor setting for one of America's premier designers to present his collections. Part of this probably results from the fact that Jacobs has been candid over the years about his personal disinterest in menswear as a designer. He rarely if ever wears his own brand, preferring more attention getting outfits from labels like Comme des Garçons and most recently being very vocal about buying copious amounts of Alessandro Michele's first Gucci collection. His lack of interest is reflected at retail where the label has little traction in menswear, and industry watchers are wondering if the men's division has many more seasons left at all without stronger direction. Closing its store couldn't be seen as a sign of faith in the division.
While once it was incredibly difficult for a retailer to even acquire a space on Bleecker Street in its most desirable stretch between Christoper Street and Hudson Street, now a prospective retailer has something of a selection. Since Brooks Brothers has sadly discontinued its Thom Browne designed Black Fleece collection, its boutique at 351 Bleecker at the corner of West 10th Street has also been shuttered leaving another prime spot open, and more space at 345 Bleecker will be available soon as Comptoir des Cotonniers has posted a closing notice in the window of its unit there. In addition, the empty where the neighborhood favorite Manatus Restaurant once served up classic diner fare is still empty after it was forced out nearly two years ago in hopes of attracting a higher paying tenant who has yet to show up.
It's not all bad news, however. As promised, Paul Smith has opened up a temporary store at 357 Bleecker Street (pictured above) to replace his original Flatiron store. As reported, it's smaller than the shuttered  lower Fifth Avenue boutique, but Smith promises a bigger permanent unit on the way. So far the store is only carrying early Spring deliveries heavy on his lower priced label, PS. Perhaps even after a more impressive space  presents itself, Smith, who has also streamlined his profusion of labels, should consider hanging on to the Bleecker Street store as a PS-only shop. It would fit in perfectly with the street's more recent focus on slightly more accessible designer labels, and it would fill up a shop that might otherwise not find a tenant a swiftly as it might have a few years ago.

Previously:
Paul Smith Is Leaving Flatiron For Bleecker Street. . . For Now

See a gallery of closing notices after the jump.

Continue reading "WEST VILLAGE INS & OUTS:

Paul Smith Is In
Mulberry, Black Fleece & Marc Jacobs Men's Are Out On Bleecker
" »


FLAGSHIP FLASH:

Muji's New Concept Fifth Avenue Flagship Opens Today

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New York has had a few Muji stores for quite some time now, but the new 12,000 square foot, two-level flagship (pictured above) opening today on Fifth Avenue across the street from the New York Public Library is promising new departments and products that will bring the store much closer to the full Muji experience that customers in its Japanese stores have come to know.
For starters, it will have the biggest assortment of clothing yet seen in any of Muji's U.S. stores, including a full selection of children's clothes for ages 2 to 10. Customers will now be able to create a customized scent at the Aroma Bar, and, for the first time, personalize their purchases with monograms or a selection of other designs at the embroidery machine station. Other additions include a Cafe Grumpy coffee bar, plants sold in partnership with Green Fingers New York, and a book section focusing on Japanese lifestyle topics. Most notably, for a store so intensely focused on Japan and its day-to-day culture, the retailer is introducing Found Muji, a section devoted to merchandise curated by its creative staff from around the world, currently featuring France's Basque region (pictured below).
Muji almost always has a few opening day surprised up its sleeve, so today will definitely be a great day to check out the new store, but it sounds like we are starting to see more of full breadth of the products that has made the chain so popular back home in Japan.

MUJI 475 Fifth Avenue between 40th & 41st Street, Midtown
Muji Unveils Experiential Concept in Fifth Avenue New York Store (WWD)
See some more images of the new store after the jump
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Continue reading "FLAGSHIP FLASH:

Muji's New Concept Fifth Avenue Flagship Opens Today" »


OPENING NOW:

The Balmain Blitz Continues With A SoHo Boutique Opening Today
UPDATED

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Perhaps no designer brand has benefitted more from an H&M collaboration than Balmain. The publicity onslaught leading up to that launch has turned the it and its current creative director Olivier Roustieng from insiders' niche label to multimedia phenomenons in a matter of months, and, for New Yorkers, the cycle is now fully complete with a Balmain boutique opening on Wooster Street today. This store will have the real stuff —no more cut rate collaboration capsules— with staggering price tags to match, and it's the first Balmain boutique in the U.S., one of only a handful worldwide. Compared to the H&M launch, the boutique is opening fairly quietly, but its arrival continues to fortify SoHo's position as a premier alternative to Madison Avenue or Midtown for luxury brands.

CORRECTION:
Well, it looks like a misleading item on Vogue.com suggested that the Balmain boutique was opening on the 19th, but a stroll past 100 Wooster Street nearly indicated that is not the case. The store should be coming soon, though. We just don't know exactly when.


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


IMPORT SHOPPING:

Totokaelo Is The New York-iest Store To Ever Come Out Of Seattle

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New Yorkers have not always been kind to ambitious fashion retailers from other cities coming to make a splash here. While a store like Jeffrey can boldly arrive from Atlanta and become a popular city fixture, we can never forget when the widely admired Louis Boston arrived here years ago with a lavish midtown store at 57th and Lexington only shutter within a few years, shunned by city shoppers. Naturally, we were wary when we heard that a designer boutique from clear across the country in Seattle called Totokaelo (pronounced Toh-toh-KYE-oh —remember it) would be opening a five-level store next to the back-side of Bloomingdale's in SoHo. How would such a bold move be accepted by New York's discerning and often merciless shoppers who already have an excess of exceptional stores to shop in? After our first visit, however, it seems clear that the store couldn't be better conceived, not for everyone, but specifically for a certain type of New Yorker —specifically that faction of city dwellers who dress along the Belgian/Japanese axis that eschews runway trends in favor of  loose but inventively styled, usually black garments. In fact, the store's stock appears to consist of about 75% black clothes if not more. The women's shoe section featured only a few styles with high, chunky heels, emphasizing esoteric flats and minimalist sneakers instead. This is not the place for shoppers in search of spindly stilettos or glitzy embellishment, but there are plenty of other places to shop for those things in New York. 
With three levels above ground and two below, Totokaelo makes the most of an unusually long and narrow building with staggered floors and double height ceilings creating a deceptively airy atmosphere. There's an open-air terrace at the top for everyone who makes it up all the stairs —an elevator is conspicuously absent from the store's otherwise clever design. Downstairs, there is a small section for denim and basics, and yet another level below is the men's section with a distinctly different ambiance featuring black walls and louder music. The lighting could use some improvement here as drama sometimes trumps actually seeing the clothes, but as with the rest of the store, staffers are friendly and helpful without being oppressive. You will find many of the same designers as in the women's sections like Rick Owens, Marni, Maison Margiela, Acne Studios, Ann Demeulemeester, Yohji Yamamoto and Dries Van Noten, but while the store is full of familiar such labels, there is also a smattering of lesser known designers for New Yorkers to discover as well.
Every new store has its growing pains, but perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised that Totokaelo is so New York-ready. Its creative and merchandising teams relocated here last January giving them plenty of time to study our peculiar ways and tastes. Opening the store at the beginning of Fashion Week was smartly timed for maximum publicity, and if all goes well, Totokaelo is poised to quickly settle in as a mainstay on New York's shopping circuit.

Totokaelo now open at 54 Crosby Street between Broome & Spring Streets, SoHo.


TRIUMPHANT RETURN:

Givenchy's New Madison Avenue Boutique Is Busy With Shoppers While Its NYFW Debut Invites The Public In

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It has taken nearly two years for the folks at Givenchy to transform the space at the corner of Madison Avenue and 65th Street into it's new flagship store (pictured above), and in that time, the space's former resident, Valentino has renovated a new multi-level store on Fifth Avenue as well as created a slightly smaller store on Madison, and Alexander McQueen has taken over the space next door which was also part of Valentino's boutique. 
Why it took Givenchy so long to get what is a sleek but not architecturally complex store open remains a mystery, but who can ever fully explain Manhattan construction delays? In the time since the store was announced, the Givenchy brand, which was just hitting its stride as a revived Haute Couture maison, has grown in stature almost exponentially. That is probably why on a muggy Monday afternoon on the last day of August, while most of the other stores in New York City were enduring the week-before-Labor-Day doldrums, the new Givenchy store was hopping with customers —and not "just looking" customers, but serious, buying customers.
Clearly, there is some pent-up demand for the Riccardo Tisci designed version of Givenchy that has been anticipating the arrival of the new boutique. The store is cleanly designed with a graphic black and white interior that sets of Tisci's often dark and graphic collections. Inspired by an art gallery (which is, frankly not a novel idea for a designer boutique in this day and age) the store's notable focal point is a group of high counters for accessories in the center of the store, neatly arrayed with handbags with their breathtaking prices noted beside them on the plank. The arrangement oddly recalls the original Helmut Lang boutique in SoHo which greeted visitors with similarly blocky displays, but these days, highlighting profit-making accessories is nothing novel. Apparel is relegated to the sides, and the men's line, another area of strong growth, is in the mezzanine upstairs in the back and set off by white glass-tiled walls.
The store is getting off to a strong start, and despite the fact that Barneys appears to carry about three times as much Givenchy merchandise a few blocks away, there remains a clear desire among some shoppers to buy in designers' own stores.
To celebrate the long awaited store, Tisci will take the unusual step of debuting the Spring 2016 Givenchy collection during New York Fashion Week on September 11th. While not unprecedented for a Parisian house to show in New York —Nicolas Ghesquière showed his Fall 2003 Balenciaga collection here to help promote the label's first U.S. boutique in Chelsea— it is a pretty rare occurrence that, this year, will help fill the void left by the unexpected departure of the Donna Karan Collection from the schedule. Creating even more excitement, the house announced today that it will distribute hundreds of tickets to the show to the public, another unusual move that is likely to set off just a touch of Wonka-like frenzy to get in as the date approaches. If it seems like Givenchy is hijacking New York Fashion Week, then you can feel confident that this is probably a one-time thing, but this season's fragmented Fashion Week can probably use the extra excitement as it tests out a new arrangement that spreads official shows between Moynihan Station in midtown and Skylight Clarkson Square in western SoHo.


FLAGSHIP FLASH:

Moschino's New Boutique Is A Double Nostalgia Trip For SoHo

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The revival and reanimation of longstanding fashion brands is in air at retail at the moment. Will the new revamped Gucci style create the kind of sensation that Tom Ford's revival did 20 years ago? Will a new designer re-invigorate Balenciaga? Will movie mogul Harvey Weinstein be able to make the Charles James label relevant for this century? Will Schiaparelli accomplish the same feat?
For the past couple of decades or so, the Moschino brand has quietly chugged profitably along, something nobody expected after its irreverent namesake designer died in 1994, but a couple of years ago, its parent company, AEFFE, decided to shake things up by hiring the cult designer Jeremy Scott to take over the brand's creative direction. Gone were the ancillary profit-making lines like Cheap and Chic and Love Moschino, and a return to outrageous runway shows was implemented. Suddenly, the new Jeremy Scott-powered Moschino is the hottest label around especially for celebrities who were already fans of the new creative director like Katy Perry and Madonna.
Part of Scott's creative strategy was to not just to re-interpret some classic Moschino codes, but to bring them back almost entirely. Rarely has a creative director been so in tune with the deceased namesake of his brand, and the merchandise hanging in the new Moschino boutique that opened this week on Wooster Street in SoHo (pictured above) gives shoppers the feeling of being transported back into the designer's late 1980s heyday. Even the original "Moschino Couture!" label has be revived as the familiar Chanel spoof quilted bags and glitzy logo belts are once again on display along with snarky slogans emblazoned on otherwise innocuous LBDs and dinner suits. The sartorial puns run rampant as giant stiletto pumps and handbags provide display space for more humanly scaled accessories and shoes like a pair of sandals made from measuring tape. In fact, the 3,500 square foot shop is designed more like an art gallery than a functioning clothing boutique —which is also a nod not to the late Franco Moschino, but to the SoHo neighborhood of the late 1980s, when it was still full of art galleries and had not yet fully transitioned into the retail destination that it is today. Brobdingnagian hangers suspended from the ceiling form the clothing racks holding carefully spaced garments delicately placed just so in a manner that discourages any casual touching, let alone taking a hanger off the rack. It only amplifies the store' gallery ambiance, which seems to be intentional. A friendly staffer made sure to let us know that there was additional, less extravagant stock in the back that he could bring out if we wanted to see it, but that would have made the place like an actual store. We preferred to enjoy the time machine that Scott and the folks at Moschino have set up for true Moschino fans. Will they turn into actual customers? That remains to be seen, although the folks at AEFFE seem to be very happy with how the revamped label has been performing in recent seasons. For now, anyway the new store is poised to be a must-visit destination for Moschino fans and and anyone else who dreams of fashion's past decades.

Moschino 73 Wooster Street between Broome & Spring Streets, SoHo

 


JON CARAMANICA GOES SHOPPING:

The Subtle Detail Edition

02CRITICAL1-master675This week's Thursday Styles features Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica's discovery of Craft Atlantic's Greenwich Avenue boutique in the West Village —no easy task as the shop has been obscured by scaffolding for a good portion of its brief existence. Perhaps apropos of this, our shopper takes a while to get to the meat of his story this week, opening with a breakdown of sorts of the current menswear fascination with humble basics once thought relegated to the gymnasium, simple sneakers, tees and sweats. After dropping the names of a few currently admired practitioners, he finally turns his attention to Craft Atlantic, which he places in the center of this trend, extolling the subtle, travel-inspired details featured on the store's self branded goods. 
Our shopper likes it, even if he isn't quite swooning, and is at least sold on the carefully tweaked neckline on a simple tee. "In fact, shopping solely from here may ensure that you don’t stand out at all. Given this, it’s important to remember that the new basics are in actuality a test. Think how easy it is to get credit for flamboyance."
If this doesn't sound like a breathless endorsement, look at it this way: Being a stylish gentleman doesn't mean chasing down every whim of the ever more creative but sometimes ill-advised men's fashion set. The Shophound has been to Craft Atlantic, and we must say that it is the kind of place where the connoisseur will find beautifully detailed basics to admire and buy —they are still the backbone of any well-dressed guy's wardrobe— and also the kind of place where the well-meaning but less confident guy who wants to look up-to-date can rest assured that he can't go too far wrong. Call it a gateway shop for guys who aren't quite ready to navigate slightly more directional stores like Odin or Carson Street Clothiers on their own, playing a vital role in the ongoing effort to get more guys who might otherwise be indifferent to dress better. 

Critical Shopper: Craft Atlantic Puts Modesty on Display, With Surprises By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Craft Atlantic 115 Greenwich Avenue at Jane Street, West Village 


GRAND OPENING:

Brookfield Place Is Sort Of Open-ish

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Downtown is happening.
The Financial District is a retail gold mine that has been woefully untapped, and when an unprecedented concentration of luxury stores around the World Trade Center opens up, rich people with money burning holed in their pockets will flock to the new mall full of coveted designer brand.
Eventually.
But not this week.
We must make it clear that The Shophound roots for retail projects to succeed, however pie-eyed they may seem. We don't like to see stores fail. It's depressing, so we are as hopeful as anyone that the extremely ambitious retail plan for the World Trade Center area succeeds, but if it happens, it won't happen overnight.
Since yesterday was the official opening day for the retail section that Brookfield Place created out of the old  World Financial Center, The Shophound decided that it was as good a time as any to see what they had made out of it —which leads to obstacle #1: Getting in there.
Unlike most most Manhattan shopping areas, you can't just stroll up to Brookfield place at the moment, at least not from the street. In fact it is easier to access the complex that includes the shopping section, the Hudson Eats food hall/court and the about to open Le District French-centric food hall if you are strolling along the Hudson River Park promenade. The entrances from West Street remain blockaded for long stretches that include the shopping center's main entrance. Even marked crosswalks are closed off, so the most direct way to get inside of the place is to backtrack two blocks east to the PATH train entrance at Greenwich and Vesey Streets and walk the length of the Santiago Calatrava Occulus structure underground to re-emerge at street level inside Brookfield Place. This is annoying but temporary, but it emphasizes the fact that Brookfield place will remain inconvenient to enter even for local shoppers for a little while.
Once inside, however there was no abundance of shoppers on opening day. Crowds were sparse on a drizzly Thursday afternoon, which made it the perfect time to finally grab an Umami Burger up in Hudson Eats without enduring a long line. Of course, not all the stores are ready, and the big luxury names, Hermès, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Ferragamo and others, are still gestating under plywood. Only about half the stores opened yesterday including bright and spacious new versions familiar shops like J.Crew, Vince, Theory, Bonobos and Diane von Furstenberg. Paul Smith was celebrating a lovely new store with Champagne, macarons and other sweets for all visitors, but, sadly, as with the other shops, earnest salespeople easily outnumbered customers, and we got the impression that this might be the case for some time to come. Many of the customers looked like they probably worked in the complex of buildings surrounding the shops, in shirtsleeves, unencumbered by coats, and probably taking a long awaited look through at the tail end of their lunch hours. That's a good thing. Part of the retail strategy there is to take advantage of the well paid working folk in the area as a captive customer base, but they may or may not be enough to support a mini-Madison Avenue, and it is basically the same sort of group that was there when the World Financial Center opened about 25 years ago. That turned out to be something of a disappointment. Retailers in the newer, reconfigured space will have to be content with a sort of time-release excitement that will hopefully bring more traffic over the course of coming year. Patience and deep pockets will be required because the immediate WTC are is still knee deep in construction which is unappealing to luxury shoppers who frankly don't need to go down there to get anything the mall has to offer. And the neighborhood tourists did not seem to be the sort of folks who would keep such a high-end collection of stores humming. We did not see a single store at Brookfield Place, open or upcoming, that wasn't already represented elsewhere in Manhattan at least once, and in most cases, several times over. In fact most of them are also open not far away in SoHo. It will be a challenge to convince most New Yorkers that they need to come to the Financial District to shop in a mall for things that are easily found in more charming New York-y shopping neighborhoods. And that's part of the challenge. It's a mall.
Nobody comes to Manhattan to shop in a mall, and successes like Columbus Circle are carefully tailored to the local neighborhood.
You can drive to Short Hills for a luxury mall, and, frankly, it's more exciting to stroll along Madison Avenue if you want to go to Hermès and Gucci and Bottega Veneta. There is nothing in Brookfield Place yet that you can't find anywhere else in Manhattan, which puts a lot of pressure on Le District to deliver on its promise. What is being touted as a "French Eataly" is opening a few sections today, most of the others by next Wednesday and is expected to be completely finished by May. It is the one thing there that hasn't been seen before elsewhere, and there is real excitement around it. Wealthy New Yorkers will go out of their way for a new food experience, and if Le District can keep them coming back, it will help the entire complex. Saks Fifth Avenue will probably not be open in Brookfield Place for at least a year, and the World Trade Center's retail projects look to be at least that far off, so if this area is destined to become the luxury retail mecca that real estate industry flacks are breathlessly touting, it's going to take a couple of years to build up to at the very least. We hope that everyone who opened to day can stick it out. We want to see them win in the end, but ravenous luxury shoppers who are expected to make Brookfield Place a success did not show up yesterday.
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