The way things are going, it seems possible that in the future, what we know as department stores will have evolved into giant shoe and cosmetics departments with a sideline in clothes. Every major store in our retail-packed city has recently unveiled vastly expanded shoe areas with the grand behemoth, Macy's Herald Square, having done so this month as the first reveal of its immense renovation that will be taking place over the next couple of years. We, like many New Yorkers, have never been such a huge fan of this particular store. It is huge, obviously, but despite being one of the city's biggest tourist attractions, it has not been kept up to date or even maintained in a way that makes it unappealing to many New Yorkers, who have the luxury of choice and aren't necessarily lured by the store's aggressive promotions. If this new shoe floor, and a recently unveiled fine jewelry department are any indication, however, that's all going to change as the enormous facility finally enters the 21st Century.
Let's be realistic, Macy's will always be packed with tourists, but its newly redesigned sections seem to make more room for everyone while lifting the dreary, fluorescent-lit gloom that hangs over most of the store. The new shoe floor is vast as expected, and very much Macy's. There are no Louboutins here, or Manolo Blahniks, or Brian Atwoods or any other costly brand that Saks, Bergdorf's and Barneys proudly promote, but there are still yet-to-debut sections that will open into the second level of leased shops for both Louis Vuitton, a longtime Macy's fixture expanding its space, and Gucci, a newcomer to the Macy's mix. Who is going to buy their $1,000 shoes? We don't really know. Vuitton's Macy's location is believed to be one of its most lucrative, but it remains to be seen if the hordes who invest in the luxury brand's opening price point items will go for its more expensive shoes. Gucci is entering the fray to take advantage of those tourists and status shoppers as well, but as both departments will be vendor run (as all Vuitton shop-in-shops are, and many of Gucci's are being converted to), they won't be participating in the sales and promotions that Macy's runs. The overwhelming majority of the department's offerings seem to be priced at around $200 or below, with lines like Cole-Haan, which has its own shop, Donald J. Pliner and L.A.M.B. serving as the high end, clustered toward the Broadway side of the floor next to a "Herald Square Café" run by Starbucks and newly exposed windows. Walking through the department, we discovered all sorts of
things. Did you know that the E! Channel has its own line of sparkly shoes? Madonna's Truth or Dare footwear collection looked better than we were expecting, but that may just be in comparison to the sea of chunky sandals and hooflike platform pumps at Macy's. There is a huge Michael Kors section in the center of the floor, but it mainly stocks his KORS and Michael labels with no sign of his premium brand.
The selection is so vast that it seems clear that with a good sense of style a person could still find some good looking shoes at a reasonable price there, but without that sense, they could also go horribly wrong —but perhaps that's the story of shopping at Macy's in general. One spacious section opens up into another and the floor's designers have not entirely neglected the store's tradition of sales and markdowns, and to that end several sections are set off on either side of the floor that seem devoted exclusively to clearance and promotions. Lined with racks, they seem to be permanent sale rooms made to move the merch while keeping the full priced tables free of chaos. We can imagine the kind of frenzy these rooms might whip up on a busy day, but they have been designed to contain it, hopefully.
The big difference here is not only the opened up space which immediately makes the department more comfortable, but also the lighting. In fact, it may be lighting that makes all the difference for shoppers once this entire renovation is finished. Most of the unflattering overhead lighting has been de-emphasized in favor of more directional illumination that draws the eye to the product and also vastly improves the ambiance of the floor. It really creates an immediately apparent feeling of being in a different store which should go a long way to winning over the jaded New Yorkers whose feeling about Macy's Herald Square is somewhere along the lines of "anywhere but there".
The difference between old and new is particularly striking in the just-finished fine jewelry department on the main floor. Moved into the arcade that separates the Broadway and Seventh Avenue buildings that once was a fragrance department, the new space has been gutted and fitted with white marble floors, mosaic faced cases and modern crystal chandeliers for a more opulent feeling. We aren't sure if exposed girder columns really work here, but they give the space an odd eclecticism. Again, lighting here is key in transforming the space, and the difference especially noticeable when strolling a few steps over to the unrenovated main floor men's department which feels even more dreary in comparison.
The most dramatic reveal will happen with the unveiling of the main floor of the Broadway side of the store that holds cosmetics and accessories that Macy's exec call "The Great Hall". That will be a long time coming, but bits of it are now visible, and they have already sparked a controversy. Some preservationists have decried stripping of the structural columns of their familiar marble cladding and Art Deco capitals. What they didn't realize however, was that those design elements were not original at all, but were actually added during a 1970s remodel. Compare the new and the old in the picture below. Which do you think looks better? The transition between old and new is so remarkable that it we are looking forward much more than we thought we would for
the entire overhaul to be completed. If they have done this well with
the few bits that are finished, we can't help imagining how much
better the store will look when it is fully refreshed, and we won't be surprised to see a lot of New Yorkers who have written off Macy's Herald Square turn out to give it a fresh chance.