With little fanfare, Saks Fifth Avenue has shuttered its much ballyhooed Brookfield Place Women's store. Last Saturday, January 5th, was its last day of business, and shoppers were not exactly swarming.
Saks spokespeople are now calling the store a "test concept" that proved in its just over two-year lifespan that Saks shoppers prefer a full line department store environment like its immense Fifth Avenue flagship over a smaller, more curated boutique-like assortment. Other observers might note that store's location within the revamped luxury shopping complex was far from optimal, set off from the main clusters of shops through a long corridor that hid it from view. Meant to be a big-name anchor, it was completely invisible from Brookfield Place's signature grove of palm trees and the popular Hudson Eats and Le District food areas.
Others might note that the closure is a signal that the Financial District's potential as a luxury shopping hub may be more limited than real estate interests would have had us believe when the neighborhood was being re-developed after 9/11. Many skeptics questioned whether even New York City could support yet another concentration of luxury stores in addition to traditionally tony areas like Fifth Avenue in Midtown, Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side and SoHo. As designers seemed to flee the relatively new Meatpacking District/Bleecker Street enclave which once seemed like a promising destination, it was hard to imagine that customers of such means would now flock to the Financial District, a problem the location faced when it originally debuted in the late 1980s as the World Financial Center.
At that time, the anchor store was the first branch location of Barneys New York, a men's only store. With that in mind, it is not so surprising that while its women's store is closed, Saks is keeping its Brookfield Place Men's Store open for the foreseeable future. The Financial District has always been seen as more hospitable to men's retailers with its namesake local businesses known for an employee base packed with highly paid men who didn't mind expressing their success with luxurious wardrobes. While those business now include more women, they are still known as boys' clubs, and it's worth noting that while the Saks Men's store is staying open, SuitSupply, the breakout menswear retailer from Amsterdam, is tripling the size of its Brookfield Place branch in a section of the complex that also includes Paul Smith, J.Crew and a Club Monaco Mens Store.
So far, the other luxury retail tenants at Brookfield like Hermès, Bottega Veneta, Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci, appear to be staying put, though most of them operate much smaller units than their Midtown flagships. It will be more interesting to see how they continue to fare as shoppers turn their attention to more exciting, newer shopping arrivals like the city's first Neiman Marcus store in the wholly manufactured Hudson Yards neighborhood set to open this Spring, or the city's first full line Nordstrom which will complete its mega-flagship's opening this Fall. One has to wonder exactly how many high end shopping destinations Manhattan can be expected to support?
While some shoppers are counting down the last few days before Chelsea's new Barneys opens, others are keeping their eyes on Midtown where an opening date has been set for New York City's first Saks Off 5th location. Eyebrows were raised when it was announced only a few months ago that the luxury department store's outlet chain would open right in the middle of full-price territory on East 57th Street, a mere seven blocks uptown from the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship at 50th and Fifth. Now we have learned that not only will the store will open on Thursday March 3rd, but it will contain the first of what is expected to be several in-store Gilt boutiques in Off 5th locations (rendering pictured above). WWD reports that the 1,000-square-foot boutique will be situated at the landing of the first escalator in the two-level, 47,333-square-foot underground store. The shop will include "Gilt by Appointment" services and will mirror the sites online events. New merchandise that is released online at 12 noon will also be unveiled at the store just in time for lunch-hour shopping. Off 5th will also accept returns of online purchases in the store but is not yet ready to facilitate in-store pick-up of online purchases.
The new shop is one of the results of Saks parent company The Hudson's Bay Company's recent purchase of Gilt. While Off 5th and the online retailer will begin to be marketed in tandem, they will continue to maintain separate buying and merchandising personnel to differentiate the more luxury minded site from the broader assortments at Off 5th. We will be able to see how well the new siblings play with each other in just over 3 weeks when the new store opens at 125 East 57th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. It's worth noting that in our rather extensive experience, off-price stores like this one tend to be packed with exceptionally good bargains at the grand opening, so first-day shopping is always recommended.
That makes three.
2016 is looking to be a big year for the Saks Off 5th outlet chain as three locations are set to open in New York City where previously there have been exactly none. In fairness, it is only in recent years that luxury department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue have been comfortable placing their outlet division stores close enough to their full line stores to allow them to exist in New York City at all. With Off 5th stores scheduled to open in the Financial District and on East 57th street next year, the Commercial Observer is now confirming that parent company Hudson's Bay Co. has signed on for a third 30,000 square foot unit at the Liberty View Industrial Plaza in Brooklyn's Sunset Plaza neighborhood (lobby rendering pictured above). The store will be on the massive complex's ground floor with a prominent entrance, and is expected to open some time between Summer and Fall of 2016. Just above it will be the already announced Bed Bath & Beyond complex including flagship sized unites of each of its divisions including the namesake chain, Buy Buy Baby, Cost Plus World Market and Harmon Face Values.
Brooklyn Really Is Getting a Saks Off Fifth as Hudson’s Bay Signs Sunset Park Deal (Commercial Observer)
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.
Honestly, we didn't plan to be spending so much time on Saks today, but news is news and the New York Post is reporting that Saks Off 5th, the chain's off-price division, has signed a lease to take over the former Daffy's space at 135 East 57th street between Park and Lexington Avenues. This is significant not only because it will be Saks' second Off 5th store in Manhattan, once considered off limits to the luxury department store's discount division, but because it comes perilously close to the midtown luxury shopping district on Fifth and Madison Avenues. In fact, the new store will only be about a 20 minute walk from the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship at 49th and Fifth and a mere two blocks from Bloomingdale's. Saks has already announced its first Off 5th Manhattan store opening next year at 1 Liberty Place in the Financial District.
While the Post has no confirmation on the specific size of the lease, it reports that the former Daffy's store was estimated at 60,000 square feet and the store is expected to open sometime next Spring. The three level space includes some street level selling area with most floor space on two concourse levels below. Landlord Charles S. Cohen reportedly held out for three years to sign a tenant that met his requirements which on the one hand demonstrates a tenacious resolve, but on the other, represents a growing problem in Manhattan and other cities where prominent, high priced retail spaces sit empty for months and years on end while landlords wait for deep pockets tenants which may never materialize, creating rent blighted stretches of storefronts in otherwise upscale and thriving neighborhoods.
Anyway, that's all the Saks news we have today. . . until something else pops up.
Like many bits of retail news, the announcement that Saks Fifth Avenue will open a stand-alone Men's Store in Downtown Manhattan was casually dropped as an aside in a news article concerning larger business issues. In a New York Times profile of Saks CEO Marc Metrick that ran over the weekend, the plan for a men's store was revealed in a discussion of Metrick's ambitious overall scheme for the department store in New York City.
"Saks. . . is opening a second store in Manhattan, at Brookfield Place in the fast-growing financial district, and will follow with a third location, a men’s-only store, also downtown."
That's all we know so far.
Stand-alone men's store.
It's not totally surprising. Saks has a few freestanding men's only stores in the chain which tend to exist when a longtime full-line store nearby needs more room for women's apparel and an appropriate real estate opportunity makes itself available. In Beverly Hills, Saks took over the former I.Magnin store a few steps away from its Wilshire Boulevard flagship for a men's store in the 1990s (pictured above). In Washington DC, the chain opened a men's satellite in a former Filene's Basement space on Wisconsin Avenue that had originally been a Raleigh's men's store when expansion of its decades-old Chevy Chase store a few blocks away was nixed by local zoning boards. The difference here is that a men's store will be presumably built without having been gestated as a department within a full line Saks store and being spun off for more selling space. We know that Saks is coming to Brookfield Place next year with a new concept store currently under construction. Will the proposed men's store be a nearby counterpart in a neighborhood that, due to its business center heritage has traditionally been more welcoming to menswear retailing anyway? It seems plausible. Saks' two men's floors at the Fifth Avenue flagship certainly encompass enough square feet and merchandise to constitute a sizable stand-alone store by themselves, so the merchandising part of the store is mostly covered. The main questions here are where and when?
At this point, several announcements about major renovations for the enormous Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store have come and gone with little actual activity, often because top management has changed faster than they have been able to implement the ever more elaborate and expensive renewal projects. The most recent one came earlier this year when then president Marigay McKee presented plans which included a series of bi-level designer lifestyle boutiques that would ring the main floor and extend up to the second level creating what we could only imagine to be a construction nightmare that wouldn't actually solve the store's pressing merchandising problems. McKee's noisy but brief tenure as Saks president ended shortly after that announcement, and the plans were apparently scuttled.
Today, WWD reports that current Saks President Mark Metrick has announced a new 3-year $250 million renovation plan that is even more radical, shuffling floors and adding a lower concourse level and even a dramatic new elevator. Ordinarily we would simply sigh and say, "We'll believe it when we see it," but now that Saks appears to have settled more comfortably as a division of Canada's Hudson's Bay Company, we have a feeling that this plan, or at least parts of it, will stick. Here are some of the main points of what will ultimately be a startling shakeup of every floor in the store.
Handbags and Accessories will take over the entire main floor.
One of Saks' longtime merchandising struggles on Fifth Avenue has been an epic fight for space on the main floor of the original building between cosmetics and handbags. Despite the enormous amount of floor space, there has never been enough room for retail's two most profitable categories to coexist peacefully there along with jewelry, and it would appear that cosmetics has won, taking over almost all of the floor space, and pushing accessories to a series of in-store shops around the store's perimeter and an undersized multi-brand handbag section crammed into the escalator atrium. This forced handbag customers to not only shop in a cumbersome ring around the huge main floor, but also to have to contend with aggressive makeup reps while buying purses.
In a reversal, Accessories have now gained the upper hand, and will not only take over the front of the main floor, but also the Swiss Tower sections behind the escalators currently occupied by jewelry. That department will be divided between the new concourse level downstairs to be called "The Vault" for precious gems and watches and part of the tower section of the second floor which presumably will house semiprecious baubles. It's a big change that will not only make it easier to sell those high-margin accessories, but should also mollify some important luxury brands without their own in-store shops who could not have been happy with the puny accessory area around the escalator atrium. This means that...
Cosmetics will move to the second floor.
Competitors Bergdorf's and Barneys have previously solved space problems by creating expansive makeup deportments in luxuriously renovated basements, but Saks will twist that scheme by moving it upstairs instead for 53% more space. The second floor at Saks is currently dedicated to more separates-oriented women's designer collections (they used to call it Designer Sportswear), but the section in the front of the store hasn't seen a major renovation since the 1970s, which is when the dramatic wooden superstructure you see there now was installed. Presumably, it will finally be cleared out. How will Saks keep what must be one of the biggest cosmetics departments in the world humming without the main floor foot traffic? A new glass elevator with a 23-foot staircase spiraling around it as well as an additional escalator will be installed in the center of the main floor to ferry customers up to two and down to the new jewelry concourse. Having cosmetics on two will trade the main floor's hectic —and extremely loud— ambiance for a more relaxing environment that will encourage customers to buy more. It will also save store visitors from having to brave battalions of fragrance models on their way to the upper floors, which is a win for everybody
Women's apparel will shrink from four to three floors.
With cosmetics moving up, women's wear will lose an entire floor, but the entire women's departments are being re-imagined. No longer to be stratified by price between the second and fifth floors, women's departments will now be arranged by lifestyle, with varying price points and different designer collections on every floor between 3 and 5. In addition, a new department call "The Ballroom" will be created on the 9th floor devoted only to eveningwear including shoes, handbags and jewelry. Bridal will also be included on the floor as well.
While Men's will remain on 6 and 7, it too will be rearranged with more of a lifestyle point of view, and other departments will be tweaked and moved around. The plan is one of the most elaborate store renovation plans we have seen, but, assuming it is fully carried out, it will give Saks some long overdue changes and updates. Don't get too anxious to see the results, however. It is not projected to be completed until 2018. In the meantime, there will be much construction disrupting the store, but when it is finished, it should result in a state-of-the-art ready to do battle just as fierce competitor Nordstrom sails into town.
Saks Fifth Avenue surprised the fashion and retailing industry yesterday afternoon by announcing that its new, high-profile president, Marigay McKee, had left the company and would be replaced by Marc Metrick (pictured right), executive vice president and chief administrative officer of the Hudson’s Bay Co. A year and a half ago, hiring McKee's away from Harrod's in London was considered a coup for Saks which had just been acquired by HBC. She was unafraid of making herself the face of the retailer, and enthusiastically vocal about her plans to upgrade the chain's stores with a higher luxury quotient to better compete with rival Neiman Marcus —particularly the Fifth Avenue flagship, which seems to be continually in a state of reconfiguration and renovation. McKee seemed almost like a throwback to flamboyant merchant princes like Marvin Traub of Bloomingdale's or Stanley Marcus who ran their companies with a hefty dose of dazzle dazzle.
So why did HBC's glittery new hire go sour so quickly? In today's post-mortem in WWD, David Moin seems to suggest that it was not her professional abilities but her management style that got her canned. According to unnamed sources, McKee stepped on many toes which led to the departure of too many valued longtime Saks personnel including most prominently chief merchant Jennifer De Winter who recently decamped to Tiffany. McKee is described as a not a "good fit" for the store, and as someone whose office frequently saw people leaving in tears after meetings with her. This, apparently, made it difficult to attract new talent to replace fleeing, formerly stalwart personnel who became attractive to other companies, a state of affairs that should be corrected with her departure as searches for several executive positions are under way.
And yet, it's hard to imagine that it was only management style that caused her dismissal. There are plenty of celebrated fashion and retailing executives whose management antics make industry insiders shudder. Was there something more behind McKee's firing? HBC executives stress that the extravagant $250 million re-imagining of the Fifth Avenue flagship store would proceed as planned, although McKee's vision included radically reconfiguring several floors including creating two-level in-store boutiques for luxury labels that would rise from the main floor to the second. A dramatic renovation like that including other plans for the building would likely cost quite a bit more than $250 million in New York City and put the store in a state of construction for years at a time. While Saks has real problems appropriately configuring its space, particularly on its over-packed main floor, that solution might have been overly costly even for HBC which is committed to investing in the store's redesign. McKee's other initiative was to cull the store's vast matrix of vendors and cut loose the brands that weren't making enough profit for the store, but a year into McKee's tenure saw Saks's flagship packed with merchandise, with every possible nook and cranny of the selling floors fitted with a rack for full-priced goods. For a store supposedly devoted to paring down its brands, it looked more like they were buying every possible label they could and throwing them on the floor to see what stuck with customers, as opposed to the strategy of a seasoned merchant carefully crafting an upgraded fashion image. Contrary to increasing the luxury quotient, it made Saks feel more like a moderate department store full of racks —not the best way to compete for customers looking for the most upscale shopping experience.
As for her replacement, Marc Metrick was a 15-year veteran of Saks before he came to HBC three years ago, so he comes with the longtime understanding of the store and its culture that McKee lacked. He is not, however, a merchant, but he looks exactly like the kind of person who is often brought in to steady a ship that has been rocked a bit too hard. So HBC's grand plans to strengthen Saks against its rivals has hit a delay, and the clock is ticking. While Bergdorf Goodman has always been the main store Saks vies with for customers in New York City, its two biggest competitors nationwide, Nordstrom and Bergdorf sibling Neiman's, are headed to Manhattan within the next few years. By then, Saks will have had its second store in the borough open at Brookfield Place in the Financial District. What it needs right now is the right merchant to get it ready for the influx of competition.
Marc Metrick In, Marigay McKee Out at Saks By David Moin (WWD)
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.