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The Shades are Down But the Door is Open at Plaza Too

PlazatooPerhaps the store is not entirely finished, but don't mind the window shades that have been pulled down at Plaza Too in the West Village. The doors are open, and the newest branch of the regional chain is working to succeed at 571 Hudson where Brazilian stiletto seller Constança Basto sadly failed. Gone are the beachy cabana stripes, and in their place are serene white walls and a couple of swiveling Arne Jacobsen egg chairs. While the company has a pretty impressive lineup of labels, so far they have pitched the offerings at this location just a notch below the top designer level. We saw brands like BCBG, Bettye Muller and Frye displayed prominently. That may change if the store manages to pull more customers making their way from Bleecker Street to the Meatpacking District, who will surely be interested in more exclusive brands like the few Givenchy pumps we saw. This is the chain's ninth store, its second in Manhattan, and aside from representing a suburban retailer's successful entry into business in the city, it also marks a change in the direction of retailing on Hudson Street, where there is suddenly a wealth of empty stores available for rent. As space on Bleecker becomes increasingly scarce, landlords are clearly hoping to attract the fashion apparel stores that have flourished a block away, but have totally ignored this neighborhood artery, which has mostly been home to restaurants, antique stores and typical neighborhood tenants like newsstands and food shops. Plaza Too may not be strong enough anchor to change the character of the street the way Marc Jacobs did on Bleecker, but it is a signal of likely changes in store.
Plaza Too 571 Hudson between Bank & West 11th Streets, West Village

Grand is the New Prince and Other SoHo News: Buckler, Hickey, Tam & More Coming Soon

Buckler_2 As we had predicted, things are heating up on Grand Street in SoHo as demand for retail space in the area pushes southward. No doubt Yohji Yamamoto thought he was located quietly off the beaten track until this fall when his block between Greene and Mercer Streets becomes an even bigger destination with new boutiques opening. Menswear designer Andrew Buckler will be opening his second shop in the city at 93 Grand, but the first above street level which should raise his profile (no pun intended.
Hickey Hickey, the younger, hipper, tighter line from venerable men's suitmaker Hickey Freeman will also opening across the street at number 96 with its first freestanding shop after enjoying success at stores like Jeffrey and Bergdorf's.
Vivienne Tam is also expected to take the wraps off her store on the corner of Grand and Mercer this season. Add that to the anticipated one-two punch of Muji and CB2 opening around the corner on Broadway, Bose's upcoming store at 463 Broadway and the continuing success of the Mega CotlacScoop at 473-5 Broadway with an entrance on Mercer, and there's a mini retail renaissance happening in SoHo below Broome street.
Hey, More shopping is always good for us, but our only concern is that Grand street has the narrowest sidewalks in Manhattan, even skinnier than your typically skinny walkways on Spring and Prince Streets. Expect be taking a detour into the street to bypass the slow trudging slack-jawed tourists who will inevitably descend on the newly chic thoroughfare.

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Alex K. Goes Shopping: Back To School Edition

Photo  by Lauren Lancaster for The New York Times
It's a Kuzcynski bonanza this week as our Alex makes another of her surprise returns to the Critical Shopper column in the Thursday Styles. This time she makes her way to Bloomingdale's in SoHo, and in the process reminds us of one of the defining concepts of the column: It's not about the store, it's about the writer, or in this case, the writer's "cousin".
Alex really gives us everything this week, starting off with a signature extra-creepy childhood reminiscence like only she can muster up:

WHEN I was a kid, back-to-school shopping meant my mother would take me to a department store wherever we were living during my peripatetic childhood and some man would put a measuring tape in places I felt were inappropriate. But, they explained, we needed an inseam measurement.

This is really horrifying, especially since it is tossed off casually as an introduction to an article about Bloomingdale's.
We would also take issue with Alex's characterization of the Uptown flagship as "the grandmother visiting from Boca, white sunglasses dangling from a chain of faux-turquoise stones around her neck, while the Bloomingdale’s in SoHo would be her granddaughter in high school who sneaks out at night with her gay guy friends to go clubbing."
Really? Has she been there lately?
Is she perhaps confusing the store at 59th & Lexington with Lord & Taylor? While it's not quite avant garde, neither is it an antiquated dowager of a store. In fact, it is still generally considered to be an innovative industry leader, though it has not quite regained all of the magnetism of its 1970s heyday. The SoHo store (formerly the home of Canal Jeans Co.) is simply the successful result of cherry picking the mother ship's more youthful sections and fitting them in a smaller space. Missing are the furniture, linen and houseware departments and top level designer collections like Chanel.
We are then introduced to "Cousin Clare", a graduate student in sociology, through whom Alex can filter her observations. We naturally would suspect that "Cousin Clare" is an imaginary friend invented to take blame for this weeks column, although it's perfectly natural that Alex might have a relative who is just as nutty as she is.

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Wal-Mart Goes Surfing for the Youth Market With Op Exclusive

Op's website
Will this get you to shop at Wal Mart?
The 800 pound gorilla of retailing is not giving up on its attempts to attract a more affluent customer to its stores, and has acquired exclusive rights to carry the Op Ocean Pacific brand in its stores. The iconic California beach and surfwear firm has been out of the market completely for the last couple of years while its parent company Iconix Brand Group, decided what to do with it.
Wal-Mart has had disappointing results at best with its attempts to generate its own more upscale brands, so they have taken a page from rival Target and entered into an agreement that is similar to its competitor's with another youthful California brand, Mossimo.
Wal-Mart will be carrying the original Op labels rather than a special sub-label created for them. Many people remember Op for the popular and colorful corduroy shorts a teenage Shophound and millions of others wore in the '80s during the brand's heyday. Since then, however, they have been eclipsed by newer, more popular surf labels like Roxy and Quiksilver (who likely wouldn't be caught dead being sold in Wal-Mart). The deal is considered something of a coup for the retailer which has been suffering from flat numbers and restless stockholders. We are sure that Op and Wal-Mart will make piles of money together, but we can't help wondering that Wal-Mart's difficulty in attracting more upscale customers my stem less from merchandising decisions than from a corporate image still deeply tarnished by associations with sweatshops and an abysmal reputation regarding employee compensation and health care benefits. It's not for nothing that civic groups continue to fight to keep Wal-Mart form opening stores in their areas. Perhaps they haven't yet realized at the Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters that affluent customers are more than happy to spend those few extra pennies for their own peace of mind.
Can a classic surfwear label change that?

American Apparel: The Neighbors Fight Back


Here at The Shophound we are mildy amused by the smutty and tasteless antics of American Apparel. We are not prudish. For example, we are not offended by Tom Ford's boobie-squeezing fragrance ads so much as we are amused that he thinks that it's suitable imagery to represent his company and products. There is a time and a place for everything, though we recognize AA's right to be as smutty or tasteless as they like. We, however, do not have an American Apparel billboard in our neighborhood, and while The Shophound can be entertained by its presumptuous vulgarity, Lower East Siders are getting incensed. We received the following comment from a reader, which you wouldn't see if you only read our front page:

I just contacted them [American Apparel] about this, write to:
I was told it was artistic, even after 45 other people in the neighborhood signed my letter saying it was over the top and that this is still a residential neighborhood, a 50 foot billboard of this is too much. They didn't care. the Sugar cafe underneath complained about this one and were told 'too bad'
the phone number of the woman in charge of that f'd up billboard is:

We redacted the phone number but you can find it in the original comment. We would note that American Apparel is now owned by The Endeavor Acquisition Corporation, a publicly owned company, so now there are a lot more people to answer for the company's imagery instead of just pervy old Dov Charney.
Previously: American Apparel is At It Again
UPDATE: As per the request of the original commenter, we have reproduced the comment, but we are removing the AA contact information. We have been informed that removal of the billboard is under discussion, which only goes to show that making your voice heard is always worthwhile.

Hollister Comes to SoHo After All

HollistersohoWell, it looks like Hollister really is ready for prime time, or at least it will be in the Spring of 2009.
Abercrombie & Fitch have finally officially announced that they have leased a mammoth space at 600 Broadway in SoHo to turn into a Hollister flagship rather than another Abercrombie & Fitch store as we reported earlier. This would make sense because at 40,000 square feet it is doubtful that even Manhattan needs two giant Abercrombie flagships.
Of course, the difference between the two brands is mostly cosmetic. As most who are familiar with the two stores know, it's mostly a case of same clothes, different logos. While Hollister is ostensibly pitched to a slightly younger customer than Abercrombie, it always looks like the the same polos and cargo pants to us.
Hollisterstorefront Here in Manhattan, though, we will probably be spared a couple of the store's typical annoying qualities one being the habit of clustering A&F, Hollister and sometimes even Ruehl stores together in the same corner of the mall, often next door to each other. The other is the fakey surf shack facade, which, presumably due to SoHo's historic district status, will thankfully not be implemented to ruin a perfectly good cast iron building.
You can be sure, however, that there will be a whole new slew of young model-like kids in flip-flops hanging by the entrance, and that the interior will be dark and gloomy with loud loud loud music like a haunted beach mansion with lots of potted palms and surfboard indicating its authentic surfer beach style...direct from New Albany OH.
Previously: Abercrombie In - Pottery Barn Out at 600 Broadway
(Official Site)

Alex K. Returns: Party Pooper Edition

26obsessions450A somewhat restrained Alex Kuczynski makes two appearances in the Sunday Times this week. One is in the Book Review where she has been popping up occasionally, and the other is in this season's "T-The New York Times Style Magazine" devoted to Women's fall fashion (which we can still only think of as "The Fashions Of The Times")
In typical style, Alex chooses to grace the fashion magazine with an article examining...book parties.
Perhaps the editors of "T" felt that there was just too much fashion in their fashion magazine, but the Contributor page suggests that Alex has been given a regular column (an exciting development) and would therefore be given free rein in writing about whatever she feels like (a disturbing development). This means that she will no longer have to try to figure out a way to connect her random musings to a retail store.
But back to the article. It seems that in Alex's world, the hottest parties around are book parties.
Our author friends will be encouraged by this news. It turns out that these events are not given by publishers, but rather by phenomenally wealthy and powerful friends and relatives of the authors. Naturally, these parties attract other phenomenally wealthy and powerful people, which made Alex feel bad about her own meager gathering when her book was published.

...because I had a book party last year at “21” Club, and I paid for it, and it sure was expensive, and only about 90 people came, and no one wrote a single peep about it. But my accountant Jonathan told me it was a great write-off.

Well, that's why we all give a party, right? Imagine the indignity of having to pay for your own party at a divey place like 21, and for only a meager 90 people without getting some sort of tax benefit? It turns out that Alex's point is that her friends aren't rich, generous or well-connected enough to turn her personal P.R. events into some sort of  hyperglamorous media cluster&#¢k to which we can only say boo-hoo. Neither are ours.
Maybe she just never thought to ask them. At the very least, it's good to see that our Alex's eyes are still firmly focused on her navel.
The must amusing part of the column, however, is "T"'s decision to illustrate the piece with an artsy variation of a Rorschach test.
What could they be suggesting?
Obsessions: Comped Lit by Alex Kuczynski (NYTimes)

Sample Sale Report: Hermès At 60% Off Is Still Insanely Expensive!


The sample sales are coming fast and furious as the summer closes. This week brought the heavy hitters like Prada, Intermix's combat shopping excercise and, of course, the continuing Barneys Warehouse Sale. We hear that the Jimmy Choo sale was a nightmare of waiting and line cutting, and we simply didn't have the patience to wait on the sidewalk for Mulberry's sale. We did manage to catch the Hermès sale yesterday with mixed results. First, the pluses. The pristine white loft in the Metropolitan Pavilion serves as pleasant backdrop for Hermès' relatively neat racks and shelves. We had to wait only for the elevator and a fast bag-check line. There was still plenty of stuff around midway through day #2. The sale was actually staffed with salespeople to assist you, and individual tents in signature orange served as changing rooms at the back of the sale, thus avoiding the undignified sample sale strip.
Now the minuses. Here's the obvious one: Hermès is so expensive that even at a huge discount, the stuff is still astonishingly costly. A $6,500 coat would still be a whopping $2,000 at least. As usual for these types of things, the age of some of the goods appeared questionable.
It must be noted that if you are expecting to score a Birkin or Kelly bag, don't waste your time. The bag selection consisted almost entirely of variations on the L.L.Bean canvas tote.

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Madewell Set for SoHo by Christmas


It's pretty much official now. J.Crew's little sister, Madewell, will be opening its first Manhattan store by the Holiday season at 486 Broadway on the corner of Broome Street.
You may recall hearing about Madewell's secret sneak preview earlier this year, and the response was so good from the press and specially invited customers that plans for a New York store were fast-tracked. The former home of Western Spirit and more recently temporary stores for UNIQLO and Rembrandt will be transformed into a two level store by Christmas. Here's our favorite quote from WWD's article announcing the store today:

The company has touted the fact that young Hollywood actresses have been buying the clothes for themselves rather than waiting to be gifted. Reese Witherspoon, Winona Ryder and Chloë Sevigny shopped at Madewell's unit at Westfield Century City Shopping Center in Los Angeles.

Wait, let's get this straight. Young highly paid celebrities in Los Angeles are actually going into a store and laying out real money to buy stuff instead of demanding it for free?
It must be good if stars are paying for it.
Madewell Opening Two-Level SoHo Unit (WWD)
Madewell (Official Site)
Previously: Madewell's Super Secret Pop-Up

Vera Wang is Set For Mercer Street

VerawangsohoThe signs are up at the future Vera Wang boutique at 158 Mercer Street, right across the street form Marni and Marc Jacobs. The shop was announced in January, but no opening date was set, so we can't tell if the minimal interior we saw while peering through the door was Vera's, indicating an imminent opening, or left over from the previous occupant, which would mean a season or more to wait. The Shop will carry both the Vera Wang collection and her contemporary line, Lavender Label, but no bridal.
What we really want to know is whether or not Kohl's will be opening a pop-up shop in Manhattan to promote the launch of Simply Vera Vera Wang next month? It worked well enough for Target's Isaac Mizrahi and Proenza Schouler launches. If they don't, then we'll have to schlepp out to Secaucus or...Jersey City!
Speaking of the big red bullseye, RACKED has pictures of the upcoming line Loeffler Randall will be doing for them. Looks like we can expect another stampede in Brooklyn.
Vera Wang (Official Site)