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 WINDOW WATCHER:
Barneys' Baz-Dazzled Holiday Promotion To Debut On Thursday
Unveiling Dates For Lord & Taylor,
Saks & Bergdorf's
Unveiling Dates For Lord & Taylor,
Saks & Bergdorf's
Thanksgiving is kinda late-ish this year, which seems to have given New York's retailers license to unveil their Holiday windows as early as possible. Walk past Manhattan's big stores this week and see all the windows conspicuously shrouded as the visual teams furiously work to get those lights and tinsel trees in place. Barneys' highly publicized promotion with film director Baz Luhrmann is set to be unveiled tomorrow, just as the weather is finally expected to cool down to something reasonably appropriate for the Holiday season (it is currently 61˚F outside as we type this).
Barneys has a lot riding on the Luhrmann collaboration. It's Holiday promotions have hit sour notes for the past three years running which is particularly embarrassing for a store whose hilarious Holiday windows were once the talk of the town and one of the store's signature elements. This time, under Luhrmann's direction, the store will be going big and reintroducing some glitter and whimsy back into its newly super-serious minimalistic store. The Madison Avenue storefront will be covered with an elaborate façade (rendering pictured above), and, beyond just having animated displays, Luhrmann, is wife and creative partner Catherine Martin and designer Zaldy have been creating elaborate costumes for live performers who will appear in the windows and on the store's balconies throughout the season. Shoppers can look forward to ice skaters in the windows and a dancer/contortionist called Elphresh who will appear in a glittering gold romper. Weekends will bring the Queens of Night and Light appearing hourly on the store's second floor balconies in voluminous ballgowns to serenade the Madison Avenue crowds and more. We are cautiously optimistic that, after forays into celebrity, cartoons, ostentatious hip-hop-tinged special items and pretentious artsy-fartsy-ness, the folks currently running Barneys may have finally found their way back to the kind of sensibility that originally endeared New Yorkers to Barneys in the first place. If this Holiday promotion resonates with customers, maybe they will re-evaluate that "Taste! Luxury! Humor!" slogan they were so quick to dismiss.
Anyway, Barneys isn't the only store throwing itself a party tomorrow. Lord & Taylor, which is undergoing its own ongoing rejuvenation program, will be lighting up its windows on Thursday as well.
Bergdorf Goodman will be unveiling its windows, currently the city's most acclaimed, on Monday the 17th. The UNICEF Snowflake over the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street will also be lit simultaneously, and 10% of the evening's proceeds will be donated to the U.S. fund for UNICEF.
Saks Fifth Avenue is conservatively holding its Holiday window reveal back until Monday November 24. With new ownership and management, the store is also looking to make a splash, so say goodbye to those illuminated dancing snowflakes on the façade that the store has presented in the past seasons. This year, Saks is promising The Rockettes themselves at the unveiling as well as a display from Fireworks by Grucci. The windows will pay tribute to the Roaring '20s and include brand new high-tech projections and lighting schemes. The launch will be live-streamed at Saks.com.
Bloomingdale's will be celebrating its windows on Monday as well with a live performance from Broadway star Idina Menzel at 5 PM on the Beacon Court of the Bloomberg Building across 59th Street along with the cast of the Off-Broadway show Illuminate.
Plan to leave work early.
Lord & Taylor stirred up some excitement last month when it announced some new concept shops for its Fifth Avenue flagship meant to burnish the chain's fashion image and attract younger, more adventurous customers. One of them, the Birdcage (rendering at right), named for the chain's signature restaurant of days gone by, focused on accessories and emerging designers along with vintage items from luxury brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès. No big deal, right? You can find vintage handbags from luxury brands all over New York in resale shops and even at flea markets on occasion. Lord & Taylor promised that the pieces were sourced form reliable resale vendors to assure authenticity.
Well, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès were not amused.
Even though Lord & Taylor does not do business with those labels' handbag lines in its stores, the brands made their displeasure known and exercised their influence not directly to the chain, but through its parent, Hudson's Bay Company, which also owns Saks Fifth Avenue and The Bay in Canada. The three brands, like most other status labels, discourage buying and selling their products through unauthorized channels, and have proved to be aggressively litigious if there is even a hint of counterfeit activity. Here is where being part of a conglomerate of department stores can be tricky, because sibling chain Saks carries current merchandise from those labels in many of its locations, and HBC was not interested in jeopardizing its relationship with some key vendors just so Lord & Taylor could sell a few vintage purses. It's possible that Lord & Taylor's own Chanel cosmetics business could have been threatened as well. WWD reports that the vintage merchandise is now being pulled from the Birdcage assortments, sending a signal to other stores that if they should want to add some cool vintage handbags and leather goods to their offerings, they should be very careful which brands they ultimately choose to sell.
Lord & Taylor's current owner, Hudson's Bay Co., continues to work to modernize the 188-year-old chain, and its latest projects promise to bring new fashion excitement to the Fifth Avenue flagship while repurposing a once well-known store brand that has been lost to time. First up is a new shop for emerging contemporary designers called Brand Assembly that has the store joining forces with an L.A. based trade show of the same name. The year-old show not only presents young designers, four times a year to buyers and press, but also gives participants operational support to help them build solid independent businesses. Now their goods will be presented for sale in Lord & Taylor's in-store shop which is set to bow in September. While some of the designers will be making their department store debuts, the shop will also offer some slightly more established names like Sachin & Babi and Torn by Ronny Kobo. While prices are meant to average around $350, they will star at $60 and run to $3,000 for more luxurious pieces. Success in the department may mean a longer time on display, and possibly continuing orders from Lord & Taylor's regular contemporary department which is also located on the second floor. “We are looking to really inject newness and fashion relevance,” Liz Rodbell, president of Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay, tells WWD. If they are successful in New York, both concepts could be rolled out to other branch stores, and both will also get their own micro-sites.
Next up, in October is another curated department located nearby to be called Birdcage (rendering pictured above) which will feature more than 1,000 styles from over 30 different labels with a focus on accessories and jewelry but also including gift, tech and home items and even food products. “It will feel like a place to discover newness,” Rodbell tells WWD. “Not every single one of the brands are new to Lord & Taylor, but the way we are putting it together is new and unique. It’s fashion, food and art together.”
Each shop is an innovative way to continue sweeping away some of the persistent middle-of-the-road fashion image that Lord & Taylor cultivated under decades of management by May Co., but for those of us who are old enough to remember a more elegant chain, the name Birdcage is a clever call-out to the store's past. Years ago, The Bird Cage was actually the name of Lord & Taylor's signature restaurant and tea room (pictured at left) which opened in the late 1930s and was replicated in stores throughout the chain. In some locations, the classic decor featured a room festooned with antique, whitewashed birdcages holding flamboyant fantasy birds. Eventually, The Bird Cage gave way to newer restaurant concepts, and was eliminated entirely from most branches, but bringing back the name, even in a different format, sends a clear signal that the chain's current owner has a sense of the chain's more illustrious history and is working to restore some of that shine in a new way.
The news keeps coming in about Lord & Taylor's efforts to renew its Fifth Avenue flagship, which, apparently have been successful in bringing more customers through it doors. Last week, we heard about the planned re-emphasis on designer women's apparel there, but it turns out that there is much more coming up this year for the historic store. WWD tells us that as part of Canadian parent Hudson's Bay Co. $180 million annual capital expenditures over the next five years, the landmark location will get a newly renovated men's department expanded to 100,000 square feet on both the 9th and 10th floors by this September. This will be a major part of the two-year $40 million renovation that will also touch other floors in the store that weren't significantly redone in the recent $25 million renovation that dramatically refreshed the store's main floor. And to think, just a few years ago, retail pundits were speculating that the building might be sold or that the store it contains would be substantially downsized.
We weren't wrong in speculating that Hudson's Bay's spending was in response to Nordstrom's expansion. The Seattle chain will be opening locations in Canada even before it's much anticipated New York City store appears in 2018. By Fall of 2014, the chain will be crossing the Northern border with both full line and Rack stores, and The Bay is investing in upgrading many of its own Canadian locations to meet the challenge. Part of the program includes opening a Bridal Salon in the Bay's immense Toronto Flagship run by New York's legendary wedding gown specialists Kleinfeld's.
But back in the U.S., Lord & Taylor will also begin to reverse a severe downsizing of the chain under previous management from 10 years ago that limited it to its strongest market in the Northeast. This fall, it will open an 80,000 square foot store in Boca Raton, Florida, so call Grandma and tell her to get ready.
A few years ago, when Lord & Taylor's longtime corporate parent May Co. merged with Macy's Inc., it looked like Lord & Taylor's future would be in question, especially since Macy's had few compunctions about absorbing popular regional nameplates it had acquired, like Marshall Field's for example, into its own vast fleet of stores. Its new owner, however, turns out to be willing to invest far more into the chain than May ever did to keep it vital and appealing —a relief to customer who crave even a little bit of choice and competition in the market.
Lord & Taylor is getting back into the designer game this fall —in New York, at least. The Canadian blog, Retail Insider reports that the store will import 'The Room', a luxury designer department from sister store Hudon's Bay Co. branches in Toronto and Vancouver, set to open on September 14. This will be in conjunction with a rollout of 'The Room' within the Hudson's Bay chain as announced by that company's president earlier this month.
Designer collections are not totally new to Lord & Taylor, but it has been a while since they have been the store's main emphasis. Longtime shoppers will remember that a few decades ago, classic American designer sportswear labels like Perry Ellis, Anne Klein and Calvin Klein were mainstays in L&T stores, along with more luxurious collections like Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, and the store easily competed with Saks and Bloomingdale's in designer categories, There were even special "Fantasia" departments in the chain's best stores with more exclusive, fashion forward collections. It was only during the 1980s and 90s under the May Company's ownership that the store's offerings were repositioned to top out at the bridge level, and most of the designer departments were eliminated. Still, in the Fifth Avenue store, a small designer offering has always been maintained with limited selections from Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and a few other prestigious labels, even though it has been mostly ignored by customers.
The Bay's 'The Room' could add a new international dimension to the store's merchandise. In Canada, it offers a designer lineup comparable to what one would find at Bergdorf Goodman or Saks including names like Balenciaga and Azzedine Alaïa. It's unclear whether or not these European luxury designers will want to expand beyond their current distribution in New York, especially to an unproven player like L&T, but rebranding the store's high end offerings as a self contained entity could go a long way to bringing customers down to 39th and Fifth who usually travel no further south than Saks. The idea of separating exclusive designer merchandise in its own boutique is a time honored tradition for mainstream department stores. Over the years, departments like Marshall Field's 28 Shop, Dayton's and Hudson's Oval Room and John Wanamaker's Tribout attracted upscale clientele to stores they might not have been as quick to shop in otherwise with special environments and services. Of course, those stores are now defunct, but Dayton's & Field's are only gone after mergers and acquisitions turned them into Macy's branches. Lord & Taylor is currently part of a smaller organization that has been investing in an ongoing renovation and revival of the Fifth Avenue flagship.A prestigious designer collection will help burnish the store's image, but, more importantly, it will help the Lord & Taylor better prepare for the arrival of major competition in the form of Nordstrom coming in a few years.
Hudson's Bay's 'The Room' Coming to Montreal and NYC (Retail Insider)
Click all images for a larger view in a new window
Lord & Taylor will unveil its famous Holiday windows this Monday, November 15th, but yesterday, The Shophound got a rare sneak peek at one of the windows that the store's visual team has been working furiously to prepare for next weeks debut. We were ushered downstairs to the workshop (part of which is actually underneath Fifth Avenue) and allowed to view one nearly finished window as it was being assembled in the store's unique hydraulic lift system, a small, officially sanctioned portion of which is pictured above.
This year, Vice President of Visual Merchandising Scott Devine and his team broke from tradition just a bit. Instead of dreaming up another nostalgic Victorian-era theme, they turned to the Lord & Taylor's Facebook fans and asked for stories about their holiday memories. After sifting through a torrent of response, favorites were chosen and incorporated into the store's Holiday window designs titled "Share The Joy". Nine months in the making (just like a baby), the windows will stand out this year by including more modern scenes and contemporary families, but still framed with the store's beloved, animated Holiday flair.
Monday's unveiling extravaganza will be an all-day affair with special appearances from Candy Queen Dylan Lauren, her almost in-law FEED Projects co-founder Lauren Bush and restaurateur Sarabeth Levine, culminating at 5:30 PM with a performance by The Young People's Chorus of New York City featuring Emmy and Tony winning "Promise, Promises" star Kristin Chenoweth. We would totally go out of our way for a free Cheno appearance, and she will sing a specially composed song for the occasion.
If that's not enough to get you to 39th and Fifth on Monday, then you might consider that the store will be offering $5 tickets that will get you a 20% savings on any single item as well as a 15% savings pass on nearly everything in the store including the cosmetics and fragrances that are always excluded from these kinds of offers. Ticket proceeds will go to the American Red Cross in Greater New York, so you're really kind of a stingy ogre if you don't go, aren't you? Something to think about while you are calculating your savings on a Chanel lipstick.
Lord & Taylor Holiday Windows debut November 15th at 424 Fifth Avenue Between 38th & 39th Streets
There's been no official announcement from the store, but WWD reports today that home furnishings vendors have begun taking orders from Lord & Taylor, which hasn't sold such items in about 20 years. The report says that as a part of the store's long overdue renovations on Fifth Avenue, the ninth floor will now be the Home floor, anchored by Ralph Lauren's Lauren and Calvin Klein's White Label lines. Other brands will probably be added as well (especially since focusing on just those two wouldn't leave much differentiation from Macy's and Bloomingdale's where they are already featured heavily).
There has been much speculation about the final configuration of Lord & Taylor's venerable flagship, which at one point included the possibility of downsizing and closing some floors to selling, but if they are stocking the store all the way up to the ninth floor, it looks more like they are capitalizing on more efficient use of space by adding potentially lucrative departments. You'll find no complaints here. For now, the revived department will be limited to the Fifth Avenue store, but if successful, will likely be rolled out to appropriate locations in the rest of the chain.
Perhaps no store has a more consistent style of Holiday windows than Lord & Taylor. Year after year, their displays are always intricate and meticulously detailed with lots of moving parts, usually including lots of figures in typically nostalgic holiday scenes. Of all the major windows, these are easily the most kinetic, sometimes featuring two or three different animations in a single window. This year, instead of featuring a story, the theme is, "What We Love", and if that sounds vague, it would explain the random combinations of Christmas-y vignettes featuring seemingly unrelated figures, often from totally different time frames, jumbled together. Here's a gingerbread house, there's a carousel and there's some skaters. One window seems to reference "The Nutcracker"...or maybe not. None of this seems to matter too much to all the little kids lined up to gaze, enthralled, at the many scenes of happy white folks celebrating.
Oh, wait a minute.
Yes, all those figures do seem a bit more homogeneous than necessary. On closer inspection, we did find a very few caramel colored figures spinning in the upper reaches of two windows (left), but we couldn't really tell if they were meant to represent another race's complexion or just suntans. Nevertheless, we certainly hope that when planning next year's windows, they are able to inject a bit more diversity into the displays.
Lord & Taylor 424 Fifth Avenue between 38th & 39th Streets, Midtown.
Don't look for a Fortunoff jewelry department to appear in a Lord & Taylor near you anytime soon.
Parent company NRDC had originally planned to combine the synergies of its two assets in just such a manner, but today, WWD reports that the Long Island based chain is up for sale. NRDC, like many diversified companies, is paring away extraneous investment to focus on core brands, a category that Fortunoff, unfortunately, did not quite qualify for.
Reportedly, Lord & Taylor is negotiating with the current opertor of its leased jewelry departments to extend the agreement, leaving Fortunoff with diminished opportunity for expansion.
NRDC in Talks to Sell Fortunoff (WWD)