The Shophound hasn't had a stroll down Madison Avenue in a few months, and what did we notice on Monday but a substantial swath of plate glass backed in the unmistakable logo of Balenciaga. It turns out that Manhattan did not really need three Gucci boutiques. As the new Alessandro Michele-era Gucci store opened in Brookfield Place, the Tom Ford/Frida Giannini version in the former Westbury Hotel was shut down in preparation to be ceded to its sister brand. Balenciaga has only ever had one New York store at a time, but its expansion to tony Madison Avenue and 69th Street is a signal that even directional "downtown" brands can benefit from uptown exposure. This will also be first U.S. store for Balenciaga under its still new creative director Demna Gvasalia. While the current, lavish SoHo flagship opened under the brief tenure of creative director Alexander Wang, it was planned under Nicolas Ghesqiuere, who spearheaded the once sleepy label back to prominence. This new shop is expected to have a radically different ambiance given Vêtements designer Gvesalia's more avant-garde point of view. The store is slated to open in June, and will be patterned after the Balenciaga boutique that recently opened in Paris which features a Warehouse style decor with industrial fixtures, foil covered ceilings, cast concrete walls and furniture upholstered in synthetic leather. It's a far cry from the dramatic marble floored opulence found in SoHo. In fact, it's almost as if the two stores will each have an interior more typically suited to the other one, with an elegant uptown ambiance in SoHo, and a downtown industrial look on Madison Avenue. Look for the new boutique's publicity blitz to begin in a couple of months as the store opens just in time to stock the pre-fall collection.
Even though the long-awaited twin Balenciaga boutiques aren't expected to arrive on Mercer Street until next Friday, the folks at WWD managed to get inside to see the dramatic, new women's store sans merchandise, and it looks like the stores will represent a major departure for the label's retail division (pictured above & below). While previous designer (and the one who can be credited with exhuming Balenciaga from near-obscurity) Nicolas Ghesquiere established a modern, futuristic ambiance for the brand's boutiques, his successor, Alexander Wang has taken a more traditional approach featuring tons (literally) of marble, and an opulent approach inspired by the house's original headquarters and majestic buildings like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “One of the main things I wanted to convey was a sense of permanence,” He tells WWD. “I want people to walk into the store and feel like it has been there forever.” Wang again collaborated with Ryan Korban with whom he developed a very different kind of mood for his own signature boutique a few blocks away on Grand Street. The next time we see this interior, it will look a bit different with its shelves and racks stocked. Both the men's and women's store are set to open on Friday the 22nd, but if they are this finished already, we wouldn't be surprised if the dors opened a bit earlier, so keep your eyes peeled.
In an announcement that surprised exactly nobody, Louis Vuitton officially named former Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière (pictured left) as Artistic Director of Women's Collections starting right now. He succeeds Marc Jacobs who bowed out in September with a dramatic runway extravaganza. Ghesquière had been rumored for the job from the time of his surprising and not particularly amicable exit from Balenciaga about a year ago, although many fashion pundits were rooting for him to go solo and start his own signature label (which he may still be able to do). Once Jacobs confirmed the end of his tenure, it was practically a given among insiders that Ghesquière would step in. The designer will take the design reins of a company roughly 20 times as large (and possibly even more bureaucratic) than the one he left, not that anyone thinks he may not be up to the task. His history of creating covetable accessories will also serve him well at Vuitton, which is said to be looking to upgrade its fashion image from a logo-driven accessory label to that of a more rarefied luxury brand in the mold of Hermès. Ghesquière's first collection will be shown in March. Let's hope he continues Jacobs' habit of live-streaming the event so we can all get up before the crack of dawn to get a glimpse of the next phase of Louis Vuitton.
Designer boutiques may be taking over SoHo, but they sure are taking their sweet time once they find their spots. Our friends at RACKED have discovered that the Balenciaga Women's & Men's boutiques set to open this Summer on Mercer Street have been pushed back to November, meaning that they will not be open to launch new creative director Alexander Wang's debut collections, which should be appearing in stores around August. That will be more than two years after the brand claimed its initial site. Racked even got a peek inside which showed an interior under construction nowhere close to being ready to open before Fall. What is causing the delay in completion may be the switch in designers. The women's boutique was originally planned by previous creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere and presumably would have featured the brand's then, fairly elaborate interior decor which typically included colorful, intricate, geometrically patterned details. As in the case of Saint Laurent, a new creative director brings a new vision for the retail concept, especially for a corporately owned luxury brand like Balenciaga. Perhaps delay is meant to give everyone time to figure out exactly what the store is going to look like.
In other developments, the store's exterior covering images featuring the Spring collection have been replaced with new campaign pictures from Wang's debut collection for the label including a new, slightly bolder logo. The newly added men's store (pictured above), until recently the intended site for corporate sibling Saint Laurent's boutique, has also finally publicly identified itself with imagery.
Now we have the final piece of the puzzling story of the shop that was to be a Saint Laurent boutique at 149 Mercer Street. The space, which before it was banished behind misleadingly labeled plywood has held John Varvatos and Napapijri boutiques, will become a Balenciaga men's boutique to complement the flagship store for the label that is under construction across the street at number 148. This will be the brand's first freestanding men's store in the U.S., and, as far as we can tell, possibly in the world. Of course, this makes perfect sense, since Balenciaga, like Yves Saint Laurent, is owned by Kering (formerly known as PPR) which would simplify any lease transfer issues.
Originally set to be opened before Yves Saint Laurent underwent a revamp by new creative director Hedi Slimane, the store was delayed, and delayed, and then ultimately moved to an entirely different space on Greene Street, leaving the fate of the apparently unloved Mercer Street location in question. WWD answered that question for us by casually dropping the bit of information while reporting on the label's Fall advertising campaign. Interestingly, it will also be one of the first new stores from Balenciaga's own closely watched creative revamp under designer Alexander Wang. Hopefully, the store will open concurrently with it's counterpart this Fall.
So you thought everything in the Paris fashion world was settled.
Today's surprise is that Nicolas Ghesquière, the designer who catapulted Balenciaga from a faded, formerly exalted Haute Couture house to the forefront of international fashion, is leaving his post. In a public statement, the designer and his soon to be former employer refer to a “joint decision to end their working relationship”.
And that's all we know for now. There's no word on who will replace him, but he will be a tough act for anyone to follow. It is believed that when Balenciaga was purchased by the then Gucci Group which became part of current owner PPR, Ghesquière was included in on the deal as a key figure with an equity incentive to remain at the label.
There is no information on the designer's future plans, and all we know for sure is that Balenciaga's sure to be lavish upcoming boutique on Mercer Street in SoHo will open with his final collection for the label.
SoHo has regained its prestige in a big way over the past couple of years having fought off the Meatpacking District, which is now moving toward the middle of the road, and Bleecker Street, which, though still desirable, is not really built to handle the kind of customer traffic that SoHo sees every day. While all of SoHo seems hospitable for the high end right now what with a lavish new Tiffany and a relocated Stella McCartney on Greene Street and Opening Ceremony's ever-influential beachhead tucked away on otherwise unremarkable Howard Street, it is the block of Mercer Street between Houston and Prince Streets that that is turning into a its own little gold coast, but not just yet.
Of course, canny Marc Jacobs has been on the block for quite some time. Vera Wang, Marni and the backside of Prada's Epicenter store have made it a particular destination to keep free-spending shoppers busy, but a few more crown jewels remain cocooned for unveilings to be announced. Balenciaga, at 148 Mercer is not expected to be ready to take customers until sometime next year though it is heralding its upcoming arrival, with gigantic advertising images (at right). Saint Laurent, which has been under wraps for well over a year now, seems to have been held back so it can presumably make its debut in sync with new creative director Hedi Slimane's controversial debut collections for next Spring. Now this group is being joined by one of fashion's flashiest labels, Versace at 160 Mercer (pictured above). We won't have to wait as long for this one, however. Apparently, this store that flew under the radar for most of it's construction is set to open this month. Ads are already running that say, "Now In SoHo", so we expect to see inside soon —maybe this weekend?
Why is this particular block such a draw for these brands? Who knows? Maybe the spaces were right, maybe they got the best deals there, or maybe, like some kind of weird fashion jinn, the Marc Jacobs store lured them there through trickery or sheer alpha-fashion-male magnetism. Whatever the reason, by this time next year, that block of Mercer Street will be packed to capacity with luxury designer shops hoping to find strength in numbers, or at least one-stop-shopping for tourists too tired to schlepp from one corner of SoHo to another.
This week's Thursday Styles marks the return of our current favorite critical shopper, Cintra Wilson who visits Balenciaga and learns a thing or two about anonymously reviewing retail establishments. Stealth is key in this activity, and believe us, we should know.
Cintra breaks rule number 1: don't take notes in the store.
The visual overload was such that, walking in, I couldn’t help immediately scribbling notes, grabbing at the confetti-blizzard of information. A staff member was quickly dispatched to investigate.
“Usually journalists show us credentials,” said the nervy young sales fellow.
They needed to see my badge?
“I’m sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable,” I said, sympathetic but unmoved to reveal my identity.
We haven't actually numbered the rules or even compiled a definitive rule list, but if we had, it would be at or near the top. Having pulled out her pen and pad, she has loudly announced herself as a non-customer. She will now be regarded by the staff as some sort of questionable interloper; an unauthorized reporter, possibly some sort of mysterious inspector or, at the very least, a compulsive note-taker and therefore potentially crazy and undesirable. Cintra, of course, further exacerbated the situation by remaining secretive, risking possible ejection but certainly compromising service.
Now, in most stores nobody would care about this sort of curious behavior, but Balenciaga is not most stores. It is in the envied position of being the American headquarters for the Acclaimed Designer of the Moment. It is the Prom Queen of boutiques, carrying the self-importance that comes with knowing that half of its stock is already sold before it even hits the selling floor. That sales staff knows that, at least for this season, all they have to do to make their sales goals is show up for work and pray that a Lanvin or Nina Ricci boutique doesn't open up anytime soon to usurp their tiaras.
We have spent the last few weeks slogging through the Fall
Phone Books magazines, Vogue, W, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Popular Mechanics. Something we thought was simply a runway trick to make fashion shows amusing seems to have shoved its way through to the mainstream, and we're a little concerned. They remind us of those clodhoppers John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever. Even a couple of years later they were laughable. Frankly, we're surprised that we haven't heard from The Manolo on this issue, as he has never been silent about ungainly footwear like the dreaded Uggs. What started a few seasons ago as a charming revival of chunky 1940's platforms seems to have evolved into a whole new genre of steroid-induced footwear, like the Balenciagas pictured above, designed for the lady who walks into the shoe department and says,
"Hey, what have you got that will make me look like I have two club feet?"
"Got anything here that will make it really easy to twist my ankle?"
"I wanna look like a Clydesdale!"
More after the jump