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Year-End Favorites—
Most & Least Part II


It's hard to beat a live mini-concert by adorable multiple Grammy Nominee Duffy topping off a cocktail party thrown by Escada and nightlife doyenne Amy Sacco to celebrate a new Escada shop in shop at Saks.
Let's forget that it happened on the eve of possibly the fastest economic downturn in anyone's memory. We just want to remember the catchy tunes.
We also don't want to forget the delightful discovery of Ralph Lauren's smartly styled fleet of the handsomest pedicab drivers we have ever seen.

It was juicy but disturbing. Take a Russian dairy mogul with a teenage daughter harboring Hilton-like aspirations (and we mean Paris, not Conrad) and you get a fly by night teen retail adventure that ended in tears and anger for the employees who couldn't beat a hasty retreat back to Moscow when it all went to hell. Good riddance, Kira Plastinina!

Too many stores have closed recently, but the most disappointing was the unforeseen shuttering of Té Casan, the innovative SoHo shoe retailer offering exclusive collections by up and coming designers as well as Natalie Portman's vegan footwear collection. This was a store that everyone loved, but it just didn't become profitable enough before the economy sucker punched it.
Linda Dresner's decision to leave New York and consolidate her efforts at her original Birmingham, Michigan store was also a great disappointment. Saks' decision to give away the store with early markdowns proved too much for the widely respected independent retailer to bear (or compete with). It's happening all over. Influential Los Angeles shopkeeper Tracey Ross has announced that she is closing up shop as well.

The apparent proliferation of premium denim, no, sorry, "Denim Based Lifestyle Brand" boutiques. They are just offering up more of what department stores are already clogged with anyway. Seven For All Mankind, True Religion and soon to open Rock & Republic have long since slipped from appealing to banal brands, but they seem unstoppable. Of course, we are exempting Jean Shop and Earnest Sewn from this pronouncement. You two we love. Don't change a thing.

Rag & Bone opened its first boutique on Christopher Street this fall, and a mere two months later doubled its space when a great location suddenly became available two doors down the street, splitting its stores into separate men's and women's shops.

The previously mentioned Marc Jacobs and John Bartlett shows top our list, but you can add Ports 1961's dreamy presentation featuring kooky hats and a surprise live concert from the Cowboy Junkies. And we can't forget to include hanging out in the VIP lounge after Rubin Singer's elegant Spring show.

Well there are two stores that were supposed to be open by now.
Obviously there was no way Topshop could have made their incredibly ambitious October opening date, but we hear they are right on track for Spring '09. We are expecting a huge party.
Ports 1961
has been coming soon for-ever. Please tell us they are opening up early next year.

Year-End Favorites—
Most & Least

We're dispensing with our usual obituary list of stores who have left us this year, because at the moment, it's just too Debbie Downer, and, to be honest, there have been so many closures in the past month that we can't keep track. However, we do feel compelled to take a quick look back at 2008 before we charge into '09.
Amid the year end gloom, there was still a lot to look back on and smile.

There were a lot of great new store openings this year, but one stood out. It's not a grand, flashy designer emporium, but a tiny boutique that reflects its owner's genuine fascination and affection for the merchandise. Leffot, an unassuming men's luxury shoe store at the corner of Christopher and Gay Streets in the West Village kept us coming back again and again just to see what new permutation of classic footwear was on display.
Devoted to ultra-luxurious handmade French and Italian labels, many of which are U.S. exclusives, owner Steven Taffel keeps close contact with his connoisseur customers through emails and a blog which chronicles in loving detail the latest arrivals and special appearances by vendors. Taffel is a specialist whose sophisticated taste level makes Prada's adventures in patchwork and metallics look like so much flashy crap.

Juicy Couture Fifth Avenue. Enough already!

Rosa Chá's bikini emporium on West Broadway is a glamorous jewel box of gilded frames and swimwear displayed as art pieces.
Jil Sander's SoHo flagship at Howard and Crosby streets was another stunner.

We have two for very different reasons.
John Bartlett opened his first signature boutique in late 2007, but it has been so impressive that he managed to score the plum job of revamping Liz Claiborne's men's line, debuting early next year. This coup helped him stage a return to the runways featuring his main men's collection in an intimate show in his own home. We love John mainly because he makes great clothes, but also because he consistently demonstrates a level of social grace unheard of in a business saddled with more than its share of prima donnas. He regularly spends the day in his West Village store, meeting customers, and what other designers do you know who send thank you notes to bloggers for attending their shows (or even assigns them seats)?
There's no shortage of press on Marc Jacobs, and his many eccentricities make him tabloid fodder on an almost daily basis. His penchant for posing nude for...well, apparently anyone with a camera would just be so much celebrity crackpot behavior if he hadn't sent out a Spring '09 collection that left even the most jaded showgoers breathless. It was the show of the season to see, if not of the past few years. As a retailer, Marc continues to give us tons of material. Instead of doing a Target or H&M collaboration, Marc knocks himself off with the newly defined Jacobs by Marc Jacobs label of affordable accessories and apparel, and offers it only in his own stores making it both accessible and exclusive.

Nobody needed a revamp more than Bloomingdale's Mens Department. In January they unveiled a new denim and sportswear floor in the sub-basement that opens on to the subway, and this fall, a larger renovation moved tailored clothing and shoes out of a series of cramped alcoves into a more prominent position. Regrettably titled No. 59 Metro and MOMENTUM, They are still only halfway through the renovation, but the improvements are immeasurable, pushing Bloomingdale's back to the forefront after a damaging lack of direction during the '90s.
Saks Fifth Avenue
has only revealed the first bits of its own long overdue third floor revamp, part of a larger program to upgrade the entire store. They are too far along not to finish the floor, but Saks, unfortunately, has a habit of canceling renovation plans at the slightest hint of a business challenge, which explains the moribund physical states of the second and fourth floors and the prolonged renovation interruptus that plagued the cosmetics department for so long. Let's hope they can fully finish their plans this time so that the store looks its best for customers when they are ready to shop again.

There were so many this year that we stopped keeping track. While UNIQLO's Designer Invitation program can be hit or miss, they mostly nailed it this year with Alexander Wang, Tim Hamilton and Loden Dager. H&M created more frenzy with Comme Des Garçons, but UNIQLO's collections were more affordable, and lasted more than a few hours in the store. Let's hope they keep it up.

Again, this trend is proliferating at a dizzying pace, but nobody pulled it off like Target's Bullseye Bodegas, a series of four temporary stores around the city featuring only the mass retailer's exclusive designer collaboration labels
Now, if we could just get a regular full sized Target somewhere here in the city...

We haven't written enough about Gilt Groupe an online retailer that launched this year to run limited sample sales for luxury designers. Such promises can bring all sorts of seasons old merchandise to your computer screen, but Gilt Groupe débuts a new sale almost every day featuring top designers (Alexander McQueen, Oscar de la Renta, John Varvatos etc.), current merchandise and full size ranges, all at a minimum of 60% off, sometimes more. They quickly added menswear, children's and accessories, and have now become an indispensable resource. Click here for an invitation, and shop away, but be quick about it. New sales open at noon, and many items often sell out before the first hour has passed.

The Blass Saga Continues:

Bill Blass Brand Officially Sold

Blass1 After the embarrassing and abrupt closure of Bill Blass Couture on December 19th, the brand's parent company, NexCen Brands Inc. has finally sold what is left of the designer label for $10 million to Peacock International Holdings, a South Korean based mid-tier men's furnishings and accessories manufacturer. Bill Blass continues to have a series of active licensees, many of whose products have not yet reached the market, and its men's creative director, designer Michael Bastian has remained with the company despite the departure of its women's designer, Peter Som.
This presumably ends the brand's financial limbo, and although Peacock would retain the rights to relaunch the Blass signature designer collection, that is not expected to happen anytime soon, if ever.
It was speculated that after a sale of the company was completed, that NexCen would be able to offer belated severance to the over 60 employees expelled from the company this month, many of whom had been with Blass for decades.
Let's hope they have earmarked at least a portion of that $10 million for that purpose.
NexCen Sells Bill Blass (WWD)
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Peacock International has every intention of bringing back the Bill Blass collection within nine to twelve months. Their agreement with NexCen prohibits a revival within the next six months, but it seems that the company is planning to have a Blass luxury line on the runways possibly as soon as next September.
“The recognition factor of the Bill Blass label is very high — in this country alone, it’s 88% — when you say ‘Bill Blass’ to just about anybody, they say, “Oh, Bill Blass,’” Peacock spokesperson Scott Patti tells WSJ.
That's heartening news. Perhaps some of those displaced Blass staffers may have their jobs returned to them next year. In the meantime, Peacock will be pulling Blass's existing licenses together to create a more unified fashion image for the brand...which is what NexCen was supposed to be doing all along.
Maybe they'll bring back the older, better logo.
Bill Blass’s New Owner Plans to Revive Couture Line (WSJ/Heard On The Runway)

International Arrivals:

Etiqueta Negra Makes
A Low-Key Debut

On Christmas Day, The Shophound happened to find ourself talking to a person from Argentina, so we asked if he was familiar with Etiqueta Negra, the chain poised to enter the U.S. market. "It's kind of like an Argentinean Tom Ford," we were told, "very expensive and luxurious.". Of course, at the time we were unaware that it had quietly opened its doors a few days earlier on Lafayette Street in one of the spaces left behind by Otto Tootsi Plohound.
Etiquetanegra1 Still waiting for some final touches, the store has been dramatically transformed from its previous contemporary incarnation. In keeping with the building's vintage exterior, a rough hewn wooden floor has been installed to set off an interior designed to look as if it had been there from the beginning. Shelves are piled with antique luggage and other weathered curios. If this sounds a little familiar, the design concept does recall Ralph Lauren's sturdy template, though the shadowy lighting is more of a Ford touch. This is not to say that the store is an imitation. If Lauren's stores are given to a feeling of precious, studied clutter, Etiqueta Negra is large enough to feel expansive, if a bit dark, moody and rugged like a former factory or a stable.
Etiquetanegra2 As for the clothes, they are sleek and classic suits and luxury sportswear including an assortment of supple leather jackets and chunky knits. Since Argentina's seasons are the reverse of those here, it's hard to tell if the Spring 2009 collection we see in the store is specifically meant for warm or cold weather (if not both), though seasonal deliveries have become so accelerated lately that we wonder if it even matters much anymore.
Downstairs, things are geared more towards Polo, which in Argentina is much more of an equestrian sport than a designer label. Despite presence of the word "Hombres" over the door, there is a similarly urbane women's collection found downstairs as well.
It's a pretty good guess that the folks at Etiqueta Negra were expecting a somewhat more hospitable retail environment when they were planning their lavish U.S. début, but it was encouraging to see that on an unusually quiet day after Christmas, the new store was attracting interested customers who left with filled shopping bags. After a joyless Holiday shopping season, there may be some hope for the future after all.
Etiqueta Negra 273 Lafayette Street between Houston & Prince Streets
Previously: Upcoming International Arrivals: Argentina Sends Etiqueta Negra To Lafayette Street

Post-Christmas Report

Shopping Frenzy
At Lukewarm Levels

Just checking in with a quick update on the inevitable After-Christmas sales.
The bad news is that if you waited until after Christmas for the After-Christmas sales you will discover that for the most part, they started before Christmas, in many cases sometime last week.
You can hardly be blamed for waiting until the normal time for things to start, but this season, all rule books have been discarded. It's every retailer for itself out there, and in the case of Saks, who jumped the gun and marked down deeply way ahead of schedule (and forcing competitors to follow suit), there's not much left to be sold at what is now an extra 60% off already reduced prices. This sale brings some merchandise to something like 85% off the original price, which is essentially unheard of without an employee discount. That would be fabulous... if the store weren't so well picked over by now. Compare today's crowd, pictured above, with the throngs seen from the same view from last year and the year before, pictured below :
(click all images for a larger view in a new window)
There's no comparison.
Either customers know that the best stuff is gone, or they simply aren't shopping at all right now, or, more likely, a little bit of both.
BergdorfssaleDitto the scene at Bergdorf Goodman (pictured at right) which was also relatively relaxed.
Most of the women's apparel there was marked down to 75% off in the price tags. Bergdorf's generally eschews "take an extra percentage off" promotion, and instead goes for the hard, permanent price change. 75% is a bit higher than they usually go for a final markdown, and it usually doesn't happen there until sometime in January. There is a little more left there than at Saks, but by and large the store is full of fresh Resort and Early Spring collections. The piles of sale handbags covering the counters there a few weeks ago are now gone gone gone.
Over at Bergdorf Men's, the markdowns are hovering around 60% for sale goods, which is actually a little less than their usual second price change. Perhaps they are seeing how much they can sell before an unusual third markdown next month, or maybe stores didn't actually need to slash prices as drastically as they did.
More of the same is found at Barneys, most sale merchandise is down to around 75% off.
Is it worth going out? That's up to you, dear shoppers. This is New York, so there is always going to be something left for you to buy. The advantage is that crowds are down, so you will likely be spared the traditional pushing & shoving.
As for us, we are about to retuen to our normal Holiday schedule of Important TV Watching.

Season's Grievances:

Christmas Is Almost Here
Let's Get It Over With

Well, Shophounders, It's time to count down the hours until the end of...well let's face it, one of the worst Holiday Shopping Seasons ever.
There's no way around it. Things in general seemed to make about as much sense as the bird-headed lady in Bergdorf's window (pictured above) and they were a lot less amusing and stylish.
Scrooge won out this year as cruel layoffs loomed and usually enthusiastic shoppers simply stayed home. The recent callous treatment of emplyees at the shuttering Bill Blass Couture and the fly-by-night Kira Plastinina has been especially depressing.
The Shophound was out picking up gifts last Saturday —the final Saturday before Christmas— and it felt for all the world like your average Tuesday afternoon in New York (with the exception of Marc Jacobs' Cheap Stuff store on Bleecker Street which, not surprisingly, has been hosting lines out the door regularly). This is all in spite of the deepest pre-Christmas sales we have ever seen. There have been so  many sample sales this season that our eyes have glazed over at the thought of another. They have almost lost all of their excitement, but then we are a bit spoiled in Manhattan when it comes to that sort of thing. We won't see that kind of activity again anytime soon, as retailers reduce their orders and manufacturers reign in production.
We admit that it has been tough to write upbeat stories about New York retail when most salespeople and shopkeepers are quaking at the thought of receiving their monthly business reports.
Let's try to find a bright side of things. After Christmas, the sales can only get better, so if you haven't bought anything in a while, there should be plenty left at the lowest possible prices. Stores are all overstocked and they have to get rid of their goods. If you have been stalking that special item that you can't get out of your head, you may be able to get it for less than you ever thought possible.
(We've already done that a couple of times, and it didn't even feel extravagant.)
So let's all do our best to stay positive and hope the historic Inauguration next month puts everyone in a better mood.
In the meantime, posting may be a little lighter between now and  New Year's, but we'll be around to see if shoppers finally come out on December 26th, and we'll tell you about it either way.
Enjoy your Holidays, and don't eat too many latkes or Christmas cookies.
Or do. Why the hell not?

Shutdown Fallout II:

Kira Plastinina,
It Gets Worse

Kiraplastininatees For those of you who haven't clicked through to the comments regarding the unfortunate Kira Plastinina meltdown, here's the prizewinner from a rightfully disgusted former employee identified only as "Management".
There's no holding back here. In fact we think a lynch mob may be forming, and we're not sure we would stand in the way.

I was a manager at one of the Kira Plastinina shops and am so disgusted with how the company went about with everything. There was so much discrimination, people who weren't paid, frustrations and scandals. Its crazy to think a company could away with so much. We were given less than a weeks notice about our jobs being let go..some people weren't given anything and just fired on the spot with NO reasons or explanations. We are at the point where we are getting kicked out of our locations, no rent has ever been paid, no electric bills have been paid and all our vendors will go bankrupt if the company doesn't find a way to pay them which I'm sure they won't. Our Russian head Director is in the USA and is going around to locations and taking the merchandise with her husband and computers etc. It's nuts we are so astounded. We are at the point where we are fighting for our paychecks. We all believe this was a cover up for some kind of dirty work or drug deal..something. But this company has been nothing but savage to us. They caused us soo much stress and pain it's unreal. Lawsuits are crazy and all of us were so mistreated. We worked SOO SOO hard for nothing. They just slapped us in the face.

If Russian dairy and juice magnates know what's good for them, they and their spoiled teenage progeny had better not show their faces around here anytime soon...or ever.

UPDATE 12/26: And here's some more from "Like you don't know":

This company was utter bullshit. As a senior employee of the corporate office I can confidently confirm that The Russians treated the American staff like crap. No one was paid severance and most employees never recouped expenses. ONE WEEK before filing chapter 11 Nicole Ritchie was paid $150,000 to fly to Russia for the launch of Kira's 'high end' line. What a joke. For the extent of the company's existence the Russians never once listened to the incredibly talented team of staff they hired. They felt it more important to pour millions onto lame PR stunts than to make clothes people actually wanted to buy. They insisted on renting shop fronts in the tackiest, most high rent locations, where the line's low price points NEVER had a chance of covering the insane monthly overheads. Pathetic.

Previously, Shutdown Fallout: Kira Plastinina Staff Left High And Dry

UPDATE: After the jump, we have reprinted an email from Phil Andrews of the Retail Action Project who is apparently here to help. It may be to late to protect the Kira Plastinina employees, but if you are a retail worker who suspects that your employer is about to go belly up and leave you with nothing, you may want to take note

Continue reading "Shutdown Fallout II:

Kira Plastinina,
It Gets Worse
" »

Shutdown Fallout:

Kira Plastinina Staff
Left High And Dry

KiraplastininaCloses It turns out that the staff of the abruptly shuttered Kira Plastinina stores was nearly as blindsided as we were by the sudden demise of the nascent chain. Here is a comment from the non-anonymous (thank you) Grace Campbell, apparently a former employee

I am very bitter about how our US team was treated throughout this whole ordeal. We all worked hard and believed in the company but knew that it would all end in tears....

We'd be bitter too.
It sounds like the upper management was behaving pretty Scroogelike during a holiday season that couldn't be any Scroogier in general. If there are any other disgruntled Kira Plastinina employees out there (and we know there's got to be a bunch), here's your opportunity to sound off.
Email us, or leave a comment.
We want the real dirt, and you probably need to vent.
Bitch away! We're here to listen.
In related news, NexCen has laid off the entire staff of Bill Blass Couture as expected, but without severance! This includes workers who had been with Blass since he opened his company in 1970.
We feel confident that Mr. Blass is rolling in his grave as you read this. Former Blass staffers, feel free to bitch here too.
Previously, Over And Out: Kira Plastinina Officially Finished Today,
Too Much Too Soon: Kira Plastinina On The Rocks?
Bill Blass Couture Closes (WWD)

Unexpected Benefits:

New York Fashion Week Thins Out

For the past few weeks we have been hearing news of an ongoing reshuffling of next February's Fall Fashion Week schedule. DKNY and Carmen Marc Valvo are forgoing the runway in favor of a presentation. Vera Wang is pulling out of the tents and staging a much smaller show in her new SoHo boutique. Tommy Hilfiger is returning to Bryant Park in Wang's time slot, and everyone is supposedly scaling back on show production.
Is this all bad?
Not really. In fact the unfortunate economic situation may well turn out too force a much needed correction for what had become a bloated Fashion Week schedule in New York.
Rest assured that the major players, Calvin, Ralph, Marc, Oscar et al, will be staging full runway shows with most, if not all the trimmings, but is Rock & Republic's decision to cancel its show such a loss?
With nearly 300 shows during the eight day period, and an alarming number of double, triple and even quadruple booked time slots, Fashion Week had become an unwieldy beast, overstuffed with contemporary and denim lines that probably didn't really belong on a high fashion runway to begin with. Maybe it's time for some of those jeans shows to go.
Every season, we have found ourselves at at least one show that has been so poorly attended, and clearly not ready for the scrutiny of the runway, that it almost hurts to see so much money wasted for so little benefit to the label. It hardly seems worth the expense and effort to stage a show only to compete with two other designers at the same time and wind up with a spotty audience of B-list or below press and buyers. Hopefully some of the labels that found themselves in such a situation (and there are more than you might imagine) will now focus their efforts on some of the better trade shows, which probably offer more promising opportunities to build business before turning to the runway later on.
As for the larger players, we there will be less change. Max Azria, who is responsible for three major runway shows at the tents, his eponymous collection, BCBG and Hervé Leger, put it succinctly in yesterday's Wall Street Journal blog,

"In fashion, everything is about emotion,” says Mr. Azria, designer and chairman of the Los Angeles-based company. “Only emotion can make a consumer buy – when you see a product on a hanger, you must get goosebumps. I’m trying to keep the emotion alive."

Azria will continue to stage his shows in the same venues, but will look to negotiate lower costs, so look for fewer fancy programs, elaborate sets and invitations this season. After all, he still has products that have to be shown in a positive and upbeat way.
Undoubtedly, we are in for more disturbing news, as brands on already shaky ground will probably close like Bill Blass did this week. Fashion Week's shakeout may bring the focus of seasonal presentations back to the kind of high fashion they were meant for, and allow for better attention for the lines that continue to show.
Max Azria: The (Three) Shows Must Go On (Heard On The Runway)