If the legendary Christmas displays do appear in Lord & Taylor's historic Fifth Avenue flagship windows this year, they will be the store's last. After selling the actual building to the voracious real estate consumer WeWork, the department store's parent company Hudson's Bay Co. announced last week that the store would be vacating the premises by the end of this year. To clarify, the chain is not folding, but this location (pictured above) along with a few other underperforming ones will be shuttering to try to stem some of HBC's recent losses.
While it is easy to get nostalgic about the departure of another of New York City's great retailers, one would have to note that this has not been as beloved a shopping destination as it's various owners over the years would have hoped it could be. The original plan was for HBC to simply maximize the building's value by selling it and leasing it back, a scheme that over the years has been frequently implemented. The Goodman family still owns the building that houses Bergdorf's where Neiman Marcus has paid its rent for decades. A similar arrangement exists at Bloomingdale's, and the initial plan for Lord & Taylor was for the store to be downsized, and for WeWork to lease out upper floors. In fairness, the mammoth store could easily have lost a few floors and consolidated its offerings for a more concise presentation and shopping experience, but, in the end, even that plan apparently didn't seem viable. While many retailers have been challenged by changing customer habits, this particular branch of Lord & Taylor also suffered from the same problem it has had for decades: Location, location, location.
One could argue that if the store had been situated a few blocks south at 34th street, which remains a teeming shopping corridor, it might have been able to survive, even thrive. By the time you get to 38th and Fifth, however, the crowds dissipate dramatically. For many years, Lord & Taylor had a genteel fellow anchor in B.Altman at 34th and Fifth, but that store has been gone since the late 80s early 90s department store bloodbath that also took out Gimbels, Bonwit Teller, Stern's and A&S. For a long time, shopping on Fifth Avenue was primarily concentrated in the stretch between Saks Fifth Avenue at 49th Street and Bergdorf Goodman at 58th. Thanks to chain stores like Zara, H&M, Urban Outfitters and others, the past decade has seen a resurgence that extended south to the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, but not to the one block further that would have brought shoppers to Lord & Taylor. It didn't help that the store's longtime owner, The May Co., seemed to have had a conflicted attitude toward what was supposed to be the crown jewel in its fleet of regional retail nameplates which have since been converted into Macy's branches. While they attempted to maintain the store's prestige with a continuing department of high-end designer women's apparel that was mostly ignored by its customers, they didn't bother to keep the store's interiors updated, allowing it to become increasingly dilapidated and outmoded. May was actually forced to sell the store when it merged with Macy's, and subsequent owners including HBC made commendable efforts to modernize, including major renovations that finally brightened the store's ambiance. Renewed emphasis on younger skewing merchandise and novelty departments would not, unfortunately, be enough to save the location, and by year's end, Lord & Taylor customers will have to make their way to Paramus, or Yonkers, or maybe Scarsdale, Manhasset or Garden City —New Jersey or New York, take your pick.
Lord & Taylor's historic store is not the only troublesome property that HBC unloaded last week. It also sold the flash sale retailer Gilt Group to its main competitor Rue La La. The once pioneering website had already fallen far since its heyday of discounted luxury designer goods when HBC bought it a few years ago. The hope that making it a more prestigious adjunct to its Saks Off Fifth outlet division did not pan out as the increasing scarcity of the prized designer labels it once sold in abundance made it hard to attract those wealthy customers that once descended upon the site at noon for its daily release of new merchandise. It seems unlikely that Gilt will be able to do that for Rue La La, but its new parent claims that it will maintain the two brands as distinct entities. Best of luck to them.
The doors are finally open at Nordstrom's first New York City store. It has been a long wait for the company to finally enter the city, and though it has already opened a series of off-price Nordstrom Rack stores here, this is the first iteration of the retailer's full-price concept to reach NYC, even if it is really an adjunct unit to the grand flagship store still under construction across Broadway. That store is now projected to open in time for the Fall 2019 season.
Of course, this is no ordinary Nordstrom branch. Not only is it the company's first all-menswear store, but it is also the rare unit that has been constructed within an existing building creating some unusual architectural challenges that we will get to later. First, let's get to the important bit: What's in the store? Those New Yorkers who don't get to suburban malls very often may not be familiar with Nordstrom's merchandising strategy. For Manhattanites, it can probably be best compared to Bloomingdale's (minus the furniture, kitchen and home furnishings departments) in the sense that it's merchandise can range, depending on the location, from Misses and Young Men's categories up to the most exclusive international luxury labels. On the whole, it is one of the most important mens retailers in the country, and most of its vendors can reliably count it as its biggest retail client by far, so a separate men's store makes sense for the chain. It also allows the retailer to open in the city about 18 months ahead of the rest of its splashy main flagship. Nordstrom has traditionally had something of a middle-of-the road fashion image as far as menswear goes, but it has has gone about updating that over the past decade. For this store, the first designer racks you see entering through the doors on Broadway between 57th and 58th streets belong to Gosha Rubchinsky, Loewe and Comme des Garçons Homme Plus. That makes a hard won statement. Nordstrom merchants have made an effort to play down the most popular (and lucrative) brands it carries in favor of labels with more limited distribution or the kind of cult appeal that will excite jaded New York shoppers. So there are Moscot sunglasses mixed in amongst the more ubiquitous Tom Ford and Gucci frames. While Tommy Bahama has been excused from this particular store, high volume producers Theory and Hugo Boss are still there, but pushed toward the back.
Downstairs, there is a coffee bar, a blander casual sportswear section and the centerpiece of any Nordstrom store: the shoe department. Here is where the store's more egalitarian ethos comes into focus most clearly. It takes up a large section of the block-long floor and features an assortment that ranges from Timberland to Christian Louboutin. There are lavish Gucci sneakers only a few steps away from more prosaic Nikes and Adidas and everything in between arrayed just a few steps further. Up on the second floor, high fashion designer collections share quarters with Tailored clothing. Collections like Dior Homme, Givenchy, Valentino and Calvin Klein 205W39NYC are in the spotlight with distinct mini-shops proving the store's luxury bona fides as more classic upscale sportswear takes shoppers into the suit department. Rather than the extensive banks of suit racks that you may still see in some more traditional Nordstrom locations, the emphasis here is more on fashion as well with patterned shirts and surprisingly few ties on display. In the back corner we found a full bar for those brave enough to drink and shop with a private shopping are tucked behind it.
As expected the store was operating with a full, beaming sales staff. You can't reasonably be annoyed that every associate goes out of their way to greet you when it is opening day, but , to their credit, they were neither cloying nor overbearing, just generally friendly and available if you needed them. Also seen was a full complement of Nordstrom executives looking alternately proud and anxious, along with the inevitable scouts from other retailers curious to see what the new entrant is bringing to the game. We spotted Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus Men's Fashion Director Bruce Pask snooping around the shoe department, and you can confidently assume that by now, his counterparts at Saks, Bloomingdale's and Barneys have all been through the place with a fine toothed comb.
As far as the store itself goes, its unorthodox footprint presents it with an unusual challenge, a split main floor, due to the main entrance of the office building above at 300 Columbus Circle. This separate section is accessible from both the upper and lower floors, but not from the rest of the main floor, not unlike the predicament Bergdorf Goodman found itself in when its mens store opened in 1990 while it waited five years for one small store on Fifth Avenue to run out its lease. Nordstrom, however is unlikely to recapture that space like Bergdorf's eventually did, and its side store is currently devoted to jeans, fragrance and grooming and a specialty electronics department. It's the concession they made to get to New York. It seems like everyone has to make one on some level —however real or figurative. We aren't worried that it will hold them back too much. The store was certainly busy with curious shoppers who looked like they were also eagerly buying. Nordstrom has opened the first major men's store in the city since Bergdorf's spun off its men's department into the former FAO Schwarz space 28 years ago. That tells you what a challenging market it is to enter. One thinks one the withering defeat that the much admired Louis, Boston suffered when its ambitious New York store ended its brief tenure in the late 1980s. That unfortunate rejection by locals has scared off some retailers from other cities for decades. Nordstrom has been trying to open a flagship in New York for even longer than that. While they aren't completely done yet, They have made a strong start. Thanks to suburban branches in the New York and New Jersey suburbs, they are not an unknown interloper to proud NYC shoppers, but a well liked mainstay they have been anticipating. So far, it looks like Nordstrom will not disappoint.
While the immense Mothership across Broadway is at least a year away from opening, the Nordstrom Men's store near Columbus Circle is now prominently posting 'Help Wanted' notices —right in its windows. While the notices are a bit tongue-in-cheek —we don't think that there is actually a position called 'sock svengali' at Nordstrom— their presence indicates that the retailer has set a firm opening date for what is the most significant men's store to to open in New York City since Bergdorf Goodman took advantage of an exceptionally good real estate deal to open its separate mens store in 1990. New York Magazine published a simple floor plan of the store in its current issue with a few highlighted items that don't seem earth shattering, but suggest that Nordstrom is looking to stock up on some cultish, New York-y items like Le Labo beard oil and and Mykita sunglasses which are far removed from the classic but accessible fare that made Nordstrom into a Menswear powerhouse. Little other early info has been released, but it's Nordstrom, so we can safely expect an extensive Mens tailored clothing presentation and an enormous shoe shoe department built to compete in a city now known for its enormous shoe departments. Add competitively pleasing service to that mix, and you should have the menswear staffs of Barneys, Bergdorf's, and Saks on their toes and on notice to see how this new interloper will stand up to the hometown faves. Its only a few months away now, so start the countdown.
There may be no more anticipated Fall 2017 product arrival on its way than Raf Simons'first runway collection for Calvin Klein. New creative directors like to make an impression and show transition. Simons, the Belgian wunderkind who stabilized Jil Sander after a revolving door of designers including the label's namesake herself and similarly revamped Christian Dior after the unplanned exit of John Galliano, is remaking the iconic American fashion label in his own way with slow, deliberate changes that are quietly surfacing to be discovered spontaneously. The latest step in the turn-around of this ocean liner can be seen in a new music video for the song "I Dare You" by The xx (watch above), a cool band chosen in the hopes that an equal degree of coolness will be conferred upon the Calvin Klein brand. Along with the band members, the video features Simons' newest choices for his brand ambassadors including Paris Jackson, Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown and Moonlight star Ashton Sanders (who has already appeared in a Calvin Klein Underwear campaign with his co-stars) alongside models Lulu Tenney and Ernesto Cervantes who have appeared in Simons first runway show for the brand as well as in subsequent ads. Though the Alasdair McLellan directed video is not presented as the kind of "Fashion Video" that Tom Ford did with Lady Gaga and a gaggle of top models a few seasons ago in lieu of a runway show, everyone in it is dressed by Simons in items from either the Jeans or Underwear lines or recognizable looks from the main collection, now re-dubbed CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC (caps, apparently, mandatory). End credits confirm the collaboration, and identify the cast members.
Simons' new concepts for the brand are making themselves visible in other ways as well. Macy's, a major retail outlet for the brand, has unveiled a new selling space for the Calvin Klein Jeans line on the third floor of the men's department (pictured above and below), featuring an intriguing combination of industrial concrete and royal blue curtains. It is unclear if any new product designed under Simons' direction has arrived in the store, but the shop is marked by his new, all-caps logo for the brand, and the designer's earliest advertisement images featured vintage jeans from the company archives, indicating that updating the denim division is a priority.
Elsewhere in the store, eagle eyes will notice that the moderate white label apparel collection is being identified with a tweaked version of the previous logo, or, shall we say, an un-tweaked version of the original logo that was subtly updated in the early 1990s. 25 years later, Simons seems to be reviving that original, iconic font for the widely distributed department store lines including underwear which will allow for retaining that famous Calvin Klein elastic waistband without much change, creating some continuity with the company's largest customer base.
As for the high profile runway line, it is just getting to be about time for it to start arriving in, if reports are accurate, substantially more stores than have recently been carrying it.
Once a strong mainstay of designer floors in nearly every upscale department store, the collection diminished in distribution dramatically over the past 15 years despite critical acclaim for previous designer Francisco Costa. The longstanding in-store boutiques in Bloomingdale's and Bergdorf's are now long gone, and while Saks Fifth Avenue continued to maintain a sparsely stocked Calvin Klein Collection boutique, that particular store is undergoing a massive renovation, so it remains to be seen if and where a new in-store shop will appear. Will Bergdorf's, which was once home to one of Calvin's most successful in-store boutiques, find a new dedicated location for Simons latest efforts after great success with his work at both Dior and Sander? We may find out in just a few months. In the meantime, for anyone who wants to check out the debut runway looks more closely, Bergdorf's, Saks, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York are all featuring the 205W39NYC women's collection for pre-order on their websites —with Barneys featuring the men's line as well. Though the single remaining Calvin Klein freestanding boutique on Madison Avenue and 60th street has updated the logo on its marquee, the last time we walked by, we saw no merchandise in the windows at all, and it appeared that, like the rest of us, it too was waiting to fully transition into the new Raf Simons era of its brand. It may only be days away.
There was one thing we were all certain of when the Nordstrom Flagship near Columbus Circle was announced: It was going to take a looooong time to build.
Initially announced as part of new wave of midtown skyscraper buildings, the upcoming store began to grow as it acquired space across the street at 3 Columbus Circle and then it was announced that adjacent buildings at 1776 Broadway and 5 Columbus Circle would be incorporated into the growing flagship including major restoration work on parts of the storefronts —which will probably make it take even longer. There's one part of the store, however, that shouldn't be hampered by complicated construction issues, and that's the Nordstrom Men's Store that is slated to open across the street. While the opening date of the main store has been pushed to 2019, new signage in the windows of the upcoming men's unit announces a Spring 2018 opening, a full year, at least, ahead of it mothership (pictured at right). Obviously, the advantage here is that the store will open in a building that has already been built, and like any good retailer, the chain wants to get this freestanding component open as soon as possible. This will make Nordstrom only the second major store in Manhattan to house its men's department in a completely separate building on another block since Bergdorf Goodman opened its Men's Store nearly 27 years ago at 58th Street and Fifth Avenue. It helps that Nordstrom has one of the most developed Men's businesses of all the higher-end specialty department store chains. It has long been said among menswear vendors that if Nordstrom is one of your clients, it is likely to be your largest, and over the past decade, the company has made great efforts to evolve its menswear offerings from traditional middle-of-the-road fare to a broader assortment including more international designers and directional labels. We will likely see more evolution in the new store as executives have already promised an extra-special presentation for New York. As the city's erstwhile men's tailored clothing champion, Barneys New York, has jettisoned all but the most luxurious tier of its men's suit offerings, there is an opportunity for Nordstrom to pick up some of that slack as the city is still home to substantial legal and financial industries where lots of men still need nice suits for work. Now, we can be fairly certain that there is less than a year to wait to see how Nordstrom will address New York's menswear market as well as to see the first glimpse of the massive upcoming flagship project.
There isn't exactly a Critical Shopper column in this week's Thursday Styles, but Jon Caramanica wrote about going to Barneys in Chelsea, so it seems to be one in all but name only. As per usual, the review begins with a little nostalgia. This time its our quasi shopper's memories of a Brooklyn childhood where the thought of Barney's (It had an apostrophe once) seemed too fantastical to be real (except that Mom had been quietly shopping there for herself all along). But that was a different Barneys than the one that currently sits on Seventh Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets. Even Caramanica notes that this new flagship store seems to be missing something, or a lot of things. "It’s like the airport version of the Madison Avenue store, perhaps more a suggestion of actual Barneys than the thing itself," and then, "It’s the MP3 to the FLAC file of the main store," —remember, he's a music writer too. Well put, although, to us it's more the the remix that bears almost no resemblance to the original track.
After all, Barneys in Chelsea is essentially a women's store now. The store that built itself on men's suits now devotes only a fraction of its space to any kind of men's apparel, and there is neither a traditional tailored suit nor a necktie to be found in the entire place. Caramanica calls the merchandising scheme "ruthless" allowing for only the most reliably profitable items, which is why, like in any other department store the main floor is an "ocean of handbags", and Chelsea Passage, the home department named after the neighborhood where it was born, has been neglected altogether. In the end, our shopper finally finds satisfaction in the basement in the chair of the Blind Barber, which tells us that maybe the inevitable comparisons to other versions of the store miss the point at the new Chelsea Barneys.
While the revamping of Bergdorf Goodman's 57th Street storefront as part of the store's current top-to-bottom renovation has still not been completely unveiled, it looks like the 58th Street side is up for a revamp that is almost as dramatic. This week, plywood scaffolding (pictured above) appeared covering the ground floor exterior and what is officially the store's front door. As on 57th Street, a life sized rendering covers the construction area showing the familiar big display windows (visible on the right side of the photo below) replaced by a series of smaller vitrine-type windows which are more suitable for showing off accessories, shoes or other small merchandise items. It would appear that the windows will be framed with green marble to match the arch around the main entrance that they flank, though it remains to be seen if any of the white marble accents that have been added to the 57th Street renovation will be used here. The new windows on both sides will now reflect the reconfiguration of the main floor selling areas with the fine jewelry salon on 57th Street and a consolidated handbag and accessory department on 57th. It took until the late 1960s for Bergdorf's to expand enough to fill up the entire building it currently occupies, but the 58th Street side has been part of the store since the building was completed in 1928. Since then, it has remained essentially intact architecturally, windows and all —until this week.
When the construction is completed, the building will have lost the original storefronts on all three of its street-facing sides. As we have pointed out before, the entire building is on a fast track to be considered for City Landmark designation before the end of this year which would preclude any further alteration to its exterior. The more it is altered, however, the less likely it is to be landmarked —which would please both the store and the building's current owner who are not in favor of landmarking. The redesigned façade should be finished in less time than its counterpart on the other side of the building since the dramatic arched entrance is expected to remain intact, but that will one of the few architectural elements left on the exterior street level from when the building was originally finished.
The reveal of Bergdorf Goodman's new 57th Street storefront is happening at a very protracted pace, but recently part of the redesign has been revealed (pictured above), and it looks even more different than we expected. The new Jewelry Salon which spurred the renovation has been open for weeks, but the unveiling won't be complete until the exterior is fully visible.
While the design of the new jewelry display windows is rendered on the plywood scaffolding covering the construction area (pictured below), the three actual windows that have been uncovered show details that aren't necessarily evident on the two-dimensional preview. Unlike on the rest of the store, the outer borders of the new windows are a contrasting gray stone rather than metal creating a more varied look on this side of the store than we were anticipating. Lighter gray marble surrounds the actual windows whose frames are made of beveled glass tiles, another material not found elsewhere on the building which should create a striking effect once the display lights are activated. The design echoes the faceted display cases inside the store. The biggest surprise is the expanse of white marble between the windows, an element that is not depicted on the rendering which suggests a more seamless looking update. What has yet to be revealed, and appears to be under wraps for a while longer, is the redesigned entryway meant to replicate the store's front door on 58th Street along with the Juliet balcony above it. Once it has been revealed and the lighting fixtures and new awnings are installed, we will have the full picture of the store's new 57th Street face. The only other thing that remains to be seen is how the dramatic alteration to the building will affect the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission's decision regarding the entire building. Last week, it was selected among a series of buildings put on a fast track to be considered for city landmark designation. Neither Bergdorf's nor the building's owner are in favor of the designation, which would disallow any further alterations. The costly new construction shows that two of the building's three street facing exterior walls have now been substantially changed from their original with stylistic elements that are not strictly in keeping with the period architecture of the building. That could potentially disqualify it as a historical landmark. It may be months before we learn the commission's final decision, but hopefully it will be only a few more weeks before we see the rest of the new storefront.
There's a silver lining for true blue Donna Karan customers who were caught by surprise with last year's announcement that the superstar designer's main collection would be folded in favor of a revamped DKNY collection designed by the guys behind the Public School brand. With Donna herself relinquishing creative responsibilities at her namesake label, would this be the end for her as a designer?
As it turns out, no. In at least one store, her side project will take center stage.
In a not terribly surprising development, the Donna Karan Collection shop on Bergdorf Goodman's sixth floor, currently in its last days of selling her final Resort collection, will be converted to an Urban Zen shop by the middle of next month. For those unfamiliar with the line, her website describes Urban Zen as ". . . a philosophy of living by Donna Karan, touched and inspired by cultures and artisans from around the world. We give back by supporting the Urban Zen Foundation, which has a mission to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of Preservation of Cultures, Well-Being and Education."
Put more simply, it is also the name of three freestanding shops in New York City's Greenwich Village, Sag Harbor, New York, and Aspen, Colorado that Karan has operated for several years independently of the now LVMH-owned fashion empire that she founded in the 1980s. Now, the line will take over Karan's Bergdorf boutique in what should be a fairly seamless transition. So far as we know, this is the first time that Urban Zen has entered the wholesale business, likely because, in previous years, it would have been too great of a conflict with the former Donna Karan Collection. Karan's fans who are unfamiliar with the label will be comforted to find that the apparel offerings, limited though they may be, basically look like classic Donna Karan designs including draped jersey dresses, roomy cashmere sweaters and leather accent pieces as seen in the image above from the current offerings. Don't be surprised to see Urban Zen's home accessories and other items in the shops well. Given one of the designer's longtime pet peeves that has returned to the fashion conversation, you can also expect the merchandise to be sold in-season with winter clothes in the winter and summer clothes in the summer.
Donna Karan has always had a special relationship with Bergdorf Goodman. It was where she launched her own label, and her personal appearances at seasonal trunk shows were known to cause mob scenes that nearly gridlocked the entire floor.
Bergdorf's won;t be the only store left with a gap in its offerings. Saks Fifth Avenue also has a Donna Karan shop on the second floor that, as of last week, was still offering what was left of the final collection. While they might not be looking to add a new shop to the floor that will soon be converted into a grand beauty department as part of a top-to-bottom store renovation, the development at Bergdorf's suggest that we might see Urban Zen grow a bit more to fill the inevitable void left by the end of the original Donna Karan label with new Donna Karan-designed merchandise.