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.
Remember a couple of years ago when we passed along the news that an upstart Qatari luxury label called Qela was opening a glittery flagship store on the corner of Madison Avenue and 61st street (rendering pictured above) in the long-gestating, renovated retail section of the former Carlton House at 680 Madison Avenue?
Not to be cynical, but that's the sort of ambitious retail debut that we usually take with just a grain or two of salt: "Heretofore unknown brand from a faraway land to make splashy New York debut at phenomenally expensive location". Well, it turns out that Qela, if it even still exists, will not be making its way to Madison and 61st Street after all. About a year ago, word was out that the space was being shopped around for a sublease, and the original lease was eventually terminated before any further action was taken, leaving it available for Tom Ford to swoop in and secure it for his next Madison Avenue boutique. No, he will not be among those with dual shops on Madison, but will instead move his flagship store downtown from the 70th street corner where he first debuted his apparel collections under his own label. The 2-level 12,300 square foot store is just a bit smaller than the current flagship, but the location, just across 61st Street from Barneys, has an even more prominent profile. While is Ford's current store is keeping company with Ralph Lauren, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Céline and other illustrious names, the new location will be sharing the block with a new Brioni boutique expected to open later this year to show off that brand's radical revamp. Other menswear neighbors include Berluti, Brunelli Cucinelli and the Hermès men's store. Though Barneys across the street as radically shrunk its fabled suit department, it also remains a major menswear store (where Ford does not sell his collection) and an important traffic generator for the neighborhood. Though Ford has shown a women's collection for several seasons, he started his signature collection with men's apparel, and it would appear to be the bigger part of his fashion offerings. There's no official time frame for the new store opening, but the raw space has been ready for a new inhabitant for quite some time now, so late 2017 might be a reasonable estimate to see how Ford will update his typically lavish retail concept.
Grand Entrance: Upstart Qatari Luxury Label Qela Plans A Major Madison Avenue Debut (1/8/2014)
Stella McCartney's long rumored uptown store has been officially finalized as the designer signed a deal last week to sublease a multi-level townhouse space from art dealer Mallet at 929 Madison Avenue. The store between 73rd and 74th street will include 5,400 square feet from the basement through the third floor, making it technically just a bit bigger than McCartney's current SoHo store. While it is just north of the traditional prime stretch of Madison from 57th to 72nd Street, it is south of the Met Breuer, formerly the Whitney Museum, which has added a lot of heat to those few blocks where stylish shoe label Aquazzura and exclusive leather goods maker Monyat have just debuted new boutiques. It may be too early to ask for projected opening dates just yet, but the store will finally bring the popular designer to a street that many thought she had stayed off for too long.
UES Location for Stella McCartney Is Done Deal (Commercial Observer)
Critical Shopper Jon Caramanica returns in this week's Thursday Styles to take on the dismayingly resilient trend of luxury designer sneakers by visiting the newly expanded Giuseppe Zanotti Design boutique on Madison Avenue. Designer sneakers are nothing new. They go back decades, but the current iteration, mostly aimed at men, has resulted in increasingly embellished and costly athletic shoes that are further and further removed from any actual sports that they were originally intended for. While Zanotti is hardly the only designer offering such footwear, he does make some of the most baroquely adorned models. Our shopper compares the designer's style to the "brazen, sexy vulgarity" of the 1980s, although as someone who lived through that decade, we can assure that Zanotti's designs far surpass the glitz of that decade with higher heels and flashier materials than anything anyone wore back then.
In fact, it is the glitz of the actual store that first strikes our shopper's eye, but it seems almost too humble a setting for Zan0tti's ever more lustrous offerings. Our shopper isn't blinded by the gleaming surfaces before him, however. It turns out that the increasingly impractical shoes are not all that comfortable. "All of the sneakers I tried on had the first-wear inflexibility of shoes, and the leather began to visibly crack with the first steps," he writes, describing them as "like wearing huge pieces of candy on your feet." The token apparel items presented to complement the shoes seem similarly shiny, impractical and uncomfortable. Ultimately, our shopper never really gets to the bottom of whom this store and its crass sneakers are for. Who is the guy (as usual, Caramanica mostly ignores the larger women's side of the store) who wants to drop $1,250 on an extravagant, bejeweled variation on a pair of $150 Nikes? We never really find the answer beyond the suggestion that it is not our shopper.
Critical Shopper: The Store With the Golden Sneakers By Jon Caramanica (NYTimes)
Giuseppe Zanotti Design 806 Madison Avenue between 68th & 68th Streets, Upper East Side
It's been a few weeks since The Shophound has caught up with the Critical Shopper over at the Thursday Styles. This week, it is Molly Young's turn to take on the city's newest boutiques, and she has made her way to the new Sonia Rykiel boutique on Madison Avenue. Hey, we were there too when it opened just about a month ago, so we are very well familiarized with the store's unique red lacquered bookshop aesthetic which our shopper describes as "eye-catching in a way that makes passers-by halt, whip off their sunglasses and peer inside"
And that's half the game right?
While The Shophound was more taken with the store's design and décor, Our shopper hones in on the clothes, having reportedly just over purged her closet. Here is where we learn that Sonia Rykiel, though always a label steeped in a woman's point of view from its flame-haired founder to its current designer Julie de Libran, is perhaps not for every woman. Of a rainbow striped jacket she concludes, "On a taller person, the fit would have been slouchy. I looked like a garden gnome." But we were most surprised by the critique of a pleated dress in 'creamsicle' polyester for $2,190, "it should have been chiffon, at that price". Well, Molly, chiffon and polyester are not mutually exclusive. Chiffon is a particular weave of fabric, like satin or corduroy or gabardine. Polyester is a fiber out of which you can make that fabric and many others —but we knew what you meant. Your copy editor didn't, though.
Critical Shopper: French Lit, Stripes and Cigarettes at Sonia Rykiel By Molly Young (NYTimes)
Sonia Rykiel 816 Madison Avenue between 68th & 69th Streets, Upper East Side
In case anyone thought that moderate contemporary brand Vince Camuto was a little bit downmarket for Madison Avenue, you were probably right. It looks like the brand has ditched the flagship across the street from Barneys that was once the home of the respectable Cole Haan, leaving it to the suitably exclusive Smythson of Bond Street. The prestigious British stationer and accessory purveyor will shortly be opening its new store there having relocated from the Crown Building on West 57th Street. Trading "across the street from Bergdorf's" for "across the street from Barneys" is probably something of an even swap, prestige-wise, and the windows on the corner of 667 Madison Avenue tell us that the new store will be open in March.
But isn't it a little bit snobby to suggest that department store mainstay Vince Cameo's premium line isn't up to snuff for Madison Avenue? After isn't DKNY just on the other corner of the block with chain store Ann Taylor just across 60th Street?
As part of the brand's ever more radical-appearing revamp, DKNY has abandoned its three-level Madison Avenue showplace, the last vestige of Donna Karaon on the street, leaving its SoHo store on West Broadway as its primary flagship home. As you can barely see reflected in the photo of the shop door below, the large Ann Taylor store has also been emptied out and is available to lease. Now there are two rather sizable retail spaces available in particularly desirable locations waiting for some deep-pocketed companies to swoop in and install some new flagship-sized stores. Who will move in, or more to the point, how long will those stores sit empty before someone coughs up the dough to move in?
We see a lot of designer boutiques here at The Shophound, and they always have something in common. They are generally designed to be tasteful and neutral backgrounds for the rarefied products they display. They may use luxurious and even innovative materials and have specially designed details that elegantly express their brand's image, but, generally without the clothes, they are a blank.
Is always refreshing to see someone willing break that pattern which is what we encountered this morning at the just-opened Sonia Rykiel boutique on Madison Avenue. Rykiel, the Parisian designer with the unmistakable mane of flaming red hair whose soigné collections amassed a cult of devoted fans over the past several decades, has been absent from Madison for a few years now as her label underwent some transition including her own retirement and the installation of new creative director, Julie de Libran. Rather than remaking the company in a wildly different direction, de Libran has successfully given the brand a shot in the arm but still pays tribute to the house signatures like those familiar striped knits and fluffy, colorful furs. When it came time to return to Madison Avenue, rather than reverting to Rykiel's traditionally sedate black and cream design scheme, de Libran and the company went for bright red lacquered shelves and a bookstore/café theme that appears in the brand's other international locations and serves as a delightful alternative to the parade of self-conscious opulence that has come to characterize Madison Avenue. The walls of the 1,900 square foot shop that was most recently a short-lived Kent & Curwen boutique, have been almost entirely covered in bookshelves which have been duly packed with all manner of literature ready for your perusal —as long as you read French. There are even a few racy volumes waiting for more private examination in the dressing rooms. Matching red lacquered mannequins bring the clothes to life, and a whimsically designed carpet by artist André Saraïva underscores the upbeat ambiance. The "café" corner in the front (pictured after the jump) shows off the newest accessories including the new "Le Copain" mini-bag (only $490) in all its colorful permutations. In short, Rykiel's return to Madison Avenue is inviting and fun, especially on a gloomy winter morning. Of course, Sonia Rykiel is no second tier brand. The clothes hanging on the racks are as luxurious and costly as anyone else's on the street, but it's amazing how a coat of red paint and a little bit of humor can vanish that that sense of self-important preciousness that seems to glaze over so many designer brand palaces in New York. See for yourself starting today.
Sonia Rykiel now open at 816 Madison Avenue between 68th & 69th Streets, Upper East Side
Have a look at some more images of the store after the jump
It may have just lost its creative director, but that won't stop Brioni from opening it's newest store on Madison Avenue this Fall. It's not totally clear if this store is meant to be a replacement or an addition to the Roman-founded label's flagship on East 57th street, but it's certainly about time that the revered brand joins its colleagues and competitors like Isaia, Berluti, Ermenegildo Zegna and Cesare Attolini on New York's most luxury-concentrated shopping strip. Brioni will be taking the northern corner shop of the recently refurbished Carlton House at 62nd Street, just one block from Barneys. Presumably, the store will open with Brioni's Fall 2015 collection which was the last one directed by Brendan Mullane who added a more directional edge to the label's classic Italian tailoring. It may have been a little bit too directional as Mullane was dismissed last month while Ermenegildo Zegna also parted ways with its designer, Stefano Pilati. Rumors swirled that the designers' innovations, impressive though they may have been to critics, were neither resonating with the labels' existing, traditionally minded customers nor attracting enough new ones. Zegna managed to poach Alessandro Sartori, the designer who originally developed its Z Zegna collection, away from Berluti where he oversaw the merging of the artisanal shoe brand with the Parisian custom tailor Arnys to make a new men's luxury lifestyle brand. Sartori will now oversee all Zegna collections. Will Brioni, now owned by luxury conglomerate Kering, try again to find someone new to add some more youthful zing to its image and attract more fashion forward customers or fall back the impeccably hand tailored traditional clothing that has always been its stock in trade? Whatever it chooses, it will have a prime Madison Avenue location to display it.
Generally, we would suggest that Pinko, derogatory midcentury slang for lefty communist sympathizers, would not be the best name for a contemporary women's apparel line, but we have all gotten used to a fashion line called Acne by now, so we suppose that all bets are off in that respect.
Anyway, Pinko (pictured at right), an Italian based sportswear chain is making what appears to be its U.S. debut on the north-western corner of Madison Avenue and 80th Street in the former home of a Comptoir des Cotonniers unit. The line, whose prices appear to be comparable to Sandro or Maje, has an abundance of stores throughout Europe, the U.K., the Middle East and China, but has not yet ventured into North America. The Commercial Observer tells us that its debut store will be roughly 1,000 square feet, and that's all we got fro now. No opening date has yet been set, nor have plans for further expansion been released, but the upper reaches of Madison Avenue right on the pedestrian route to the Metropolitan Museum should be fertile ground to launch this sort of brand in the vicinity of Vince, J.Crew, Nanette Lepore and their ilk. Stay tuned for more details.
Italian Women’s Fashion Brand Pinko Making Foray Into USA (Commercial Observer)
Fans of burgeoning Italian designer shoe label Aquazzura will be flocking this spring to the block that the Whitney Museum just vacated when the label debuts its first freestanding store in the United States. Currently under extensive renovation, the retail space in the row of townhouses just to the museum building's south will be the label's new home (as pictured in the rendering above). The Commercial Observer reports that the label, founded by former Ferragamo shoe designer Edgardo Osorio in 2011, will take 2,221 square feet including ground floor and basement space. While Madison Avenue's prime stretch has traditionally been thought to be between 57th and 72nd Streets, designers have been pushing northward for some time. The new boutique will fall between 74th and 75th Streets, and a Spring opening will coincide with the Metropolitan Museum taking over the museum building which will be known as the Met Breuer after its esteemed architect. More to the point, Aquazzura's shop will be in just about the same spot as Christian Louboutin's first New York store. You can now find those red-soled slippers a block or so to the north, but if the location works half as well for Aquazzura as it did for its acclaimed colleague, the label should easily break out of its insider-y niche status.
Italian Luxury Shoemaker Opening First U.S. Store in Manhattan (Commercial Observer)