One of the season's favorite shopping events is making its 4th appearance tomorrow when it opens its doors, such as they are, at Brookfield Place in the Financial District. Not quite a traditional store, this season's WIRED pop-up (pictured above) will be inhabiting a series of booths amongst the palms in the complex's Winter Garden. As usual, it will feature the latest in must-have tech gifts and gadgets as chosen by the magazine's editors. Highlights will range from the Anki Cozmo Collector’s Edition Robot which at $179.99 seems reasonable for a robot to the more extravagant Shinola Canfield Over-Ear Headphones at $595. For tech savvy gift shopping or just a break from the rest of your Holiday shopping, the pop-up will be open through December 22, and most merchandise will also be available online through the Wired Store website, while it lasts.
It's been tough going for Hickey Freeman in recent years what with changes of ownership and creative direction coupled with some uncertainty in the men's suit business that has caused a store like Barney's New York to dramatically reduce the space devoted to the category it built its business on to one measly floor in its Madison Avenue flagship —from the original three. Things seem to have stabilized at Hickey, however, and to prove it, the label has opened a modest but noteworthy new store at Brookfield Place right in the middle of the neighborhood where suit-wearing has never wavered. Not a big flashy flagship, the 900 square foot store is devoted to the company's made-to-measure division, a service that falls just short of full custom tailoring, but allows customers to make their own fabric and model choices as well as offers special sizes and fit adjustments that can minimize final alterations. Though there is a selection of ready-to-wear items showing the company's updated look, the new concept store also displays 180 bolts of fabric for tailored clothing and shirts as a part of its sleek, design. It is the first Hickey Freeman retails store created by the brand's new management, Grano Retail Holdings which purchased Hickey Freeman's assets including its famed Rochester NY factories, as well as a long-term license for the brand name which still belongs to Authentic Brands Group. It's a complicated arrangement, but it has kept one of America's great menswear brands alive after a couple of bankruptcies of its past parent companies Hartmarx and HMX. New management is dedicated to revival, and chose Brookfield Place to join in the renewal of lower manhattan but also to give the label more visibility in a market where it believes it is underrepresented. The other obvious part of the store's goal is to show off Hickey's new fashion direction, “. . .so when retailers come through New York City, they can see how we display and present it,” Grano CEO Stephen Granovsky tells WWD.
But what of the Madison Avenue flagship between 54th and 55th Streets? Shouldn't that be the site of brand's high-profile re-introduction? It turns out that that store continues to be owned and operated by a different company controlled by Hickey Freeman former CEO which accounts for its more traditional look and ambiance. That state of affairs may change in the future, but Grano is actively looking for looking for more New York locations to open stores of about 1,500 square feet as well as continue to grow Hickey Freeman's business in the specialty store channel that has historically been its strong suit (no pun intended). The Upper East Side is another target location, so perhaps we will soon see Hickey going head to head with Italian powerhouses like Brioni, Isaiah and Cesare Attolini. If it can stand up to to that rarefied competition, then its future should be as bright as its new yellow logo design.
Today's Thursday Styles features steady Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica's take on the beginning of the retail cavalcade that has descended upon the neighborhood immediately surrounding the World Trade Center's memorial as well as its re-imagining still under construction.
And he's finding it all a bit jarring.
Rather than focusing on just one store, he takes on the entirety of the Brookfield Place luxury mall featuring fresh new outposts from Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna, Bottega Veneta an more among its roster of international status brands. Our shopper's overall thesis this week is that we shop to forget —to anesthetize ourselves against the adversity we encounter in life. In this case, he is obviously making a reference to the tragedy of September 11, 2001 which haunts the financial district in general, and he is really giving in to the ghosts. Of the mall he says, "It is a testament to the resilience of our real estate developers, if not our national mood. Here, at the heart of the city’s suffering, we are being told to shop: To spend is to be healed."
Perhaps we are somehow protesting the specter of international terrorism down town with the kind of luxury and profligate consumption specifically abhorred by our jihadist enemies, but hey, it's New York. We're just being ourselves. By that token, we could argue that the city's sprawling shopping culture exists to distract us from so many of the more disturbing aspects of our city. After all, it's not that we have seen a homeless person or two on Fifth Avenue, but that any city resident has encountered so many in every neighborhood no matter how tony it may be, not to mention everywhere in the public transit system.
But back to today's column, where our shopper has faintly admiring words for the just opened Gucci shop at Brookfield Place. It is the first New York example of the label's new creative director Alessandro Michele's re-imagined retail format for the brand. It's not all that different from the old format which features lots of handbags up front with lots of logos and red and green striped webbing. It's a respectable update that nicely shows off Michele's relentlessly eclectic, dressed-in-the-dark Resort collection, but The Shophound has to admit that we have had a lot harder time working up enthusiasm for a designer who thinks that putting a high, chunky heel on a gold leather version of you grandmother's house slippers makes than somehow appealing.
It does not.
Caramanaica calls the lineup of stores at Brookfield Place "shrug worthy" and it's true in the sense that it appears to includes not a single boutique that doesn't exist somewhere else in Manhattan in a larger and more comprehensive version. Perhaps it is the relentless retail drumbeat of the Holiday Shopping season combined with this year's weirdly balmy Holiday Season that has put his mood off, but still, he doesn't leave empty-handed. Our shopper remembers his professional purpose and picks up a smart overcoat at nearly 60% off from Club Monaco along with a bracing scented candle from Nest.
They all smelled the same until finally I landed on one — Sicilian tangerine — that was almost acidic. It had bite, the scent creeping up my nostrils and scraping away. Instinctively, I winced, but at the same time began to salivate. For a moment, death felt far away.
It's tough to stay down on shopping when it is an explicit part of one's work assignment. The choices are to rally or resign, but everyone is entitled to a case of the Holiday Blues once in a while. Like the neighborhood around Ground Zero, however, one eventually has to pick oneself up and carry on.
After a casual announcement that it was in the works earlier this Fall, it now appears that Saks Fifth Avenue's freestanding Men's store will land at 250 Vesey Street (pictured at right), not far from the full-line store in Brookfield Place that is scheduled to open this Summer.
The New York Post reports that the retailer has taken the space that was thought to be allocated to French chef Joël Robuchon for a gourmet restaurant and market. Perhaps it was decided that one French culinary hall, Brookfield's Le District, was enough for the area. Saks will reportedly be taking 16,750 square-feet on the second floor of what was originally called 4 World Financial Center which includes all of Robuchon's space plus an additional 4,000 square feet. The space overlooks the Battery Park City marina which will be a nice view for the store currently expected to open in March of 2017. Included with the larger full-line Women's store and an upcoming Off 5th unit on the other side of the World Trade Center complex at One Liberty Plaza, Saks will have an impressive presence in the Financial District, a neighborhood whose potency as a major shopping destination still has yet to be proved.
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.
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.