It has been several months since Club Monaco's customers on Lower Fifth Avenue have been directed around the corner to a disused Daffy's, but that inconvenience is now ended. This morning, regular customers were alerted that the chain's main flagship and first New York location at Fifth Avenue and 21st Street is now once again open for business, but once inside, you would hardly recognize it. Even before we walked inside, we noticed a decorative wrought-iron grille restored above the front door flanked by opulent floral arrangements and new awnings. What was originally a stripped down and slightly generic, modernistic retail decor has been transformed into a grand residential interior in keeping with 120-year-old Gilded Age building it occupies. Originally started in Canada by Joe Mimran and Alfred Sung, Club Monaco was acquired by Ralph Lauren in 1999, and the question many had at the time was whether the designer could own a trend driven brand without ultimately bending it to his own, very specific aesthetic style? The most striking thing about the re-imagined Club Monaco flagship is how very easily it could serve as a Ralph Lauren store. It might feel somewhat disappointing on a purely cynical level if it weren't so impeccably executed. Parquet floors, elaborate moldings and imposing columns give the store a lavish Beaux Arts ambiance. The once open space is now divided into interconnected rooms (another Lauren hallmark), but an expansion adds square feet for new extra features like a florist counter, and a bookshop courtesy of The Strand. A coffee bar with its own entrance is still under construction.
Downstairs, the men's department has been similarly transformed with marble floors and a much darker palette, because darkness means men's clothes in the Ralph Lauren world. Again the interconnected rooms feel more spacious, and offer better settings for a shoe section featuring Grenson, Mark McNairy and Rancourt, as well as a special Made in the USA line of suiting. A couple of years ago, The Shophound took Club Monaco to task for a new men's strategy that seemed blatantly lifted from competitor J.Crew in its focus on preppy classics and carefully curated third party brands brought in to add prestige and round out offerings. Over the past seasons, however, the chain has developed a more individual men's fashion image with more quirk and modernistic touches. The women's offerings, oddly enough have not developed as clear of a point of view. What originally arrived in New York in the late '90s as a source for high fashion trends at a price now seems blandly middle-of-the-road in its women's offerings, which could use a bit more of the zing that is livening up the lower level of the store. Currently the effect is of two entirely different companies which just happen to occupy the same store. Perhaps that will change in the future. What Club Monaco is showing off right now is a dramatically transformed environment, which may suggest what shoppers will be able to expect when its new SoHo stores are unveiled, although replicating the sumptuous design in this particular store may be too costly to roll out to every store in the chain. Check out more views of the store in out gallery below, and even if you don't think of yourself as Club Monaco fan, it's worth a look in person just to appreciate the store's impressive transformation.
Club Monaco 160 Fifth Avenue, Flatiron District