By  on October 10, 2011

NEW YORK — As if there isn’t always enough activity, add an army of hard hats and the smell of fresh paint to the scene at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street.

The 520,000-square-foot flagship is in the final throes of renovation once again, this time touching more than 100,000 square feet of selling space, roughly a fifth of the site, and recasting bridge, contemporary, home, shoes, fine jewelry and parts of the designer floor.

Through October and November, Bloomingdale’s is running ads and staging designer appearances to spotlight new and rebuilt shops and overhauled departments, a huge project estimated to cost $400 to $500 a square foot, or in the vicinity of $50 million, paid for by Bloomingdale’s and its vendors.

“In our 20 years at the store, we have never had this much square footage under construction at one time,” Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive officer since 1991, said in an interview with two of his top lieutenants: Frank Doroff, vice chairman, and Jack Hruska, executive vice president of creative services, who have also spent two decades at the store.

“What’s so exciting is the business here has been terrific in 2011,” despite the makeover, Gould added. “There’s strong tourist traffic and a resurgence in luxury.” Gould declined to say just how good business is, but sources said the flagship generated more than $600 million in annual sales last year, or about $1,200 a square foot.

While things are good overall, there are some less robust pockets of business, such as bridge sportswear on three, called New View, where there’s been radical surgery. The assortment has been modernized, feminized and less weighted to wear-to-work, Bloomingdale’s says. Such labels as Cynthia Steffe, Milly, Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Taylor, Tibi and Trina Turk, previously found on the second floor for contemporary sportswear, have moved up a flight to generate greater cross-shopping floor to floor. Newcomers to three include Coast, Weekend Max Mara, Robert Rodriguez and Vince Camuto. Level three also houses a contemporary dress department, relocated from five, with several labels new to Bloomingdale’s, such as Black Halo, Halston Heritage, Issa and Susana Monaco.

“We felt the ready-to-wear business has been somewhat challenging since 2008 and that we needed to reinvigorate,” said Doroff.

The goal on three, said Gould, is to “generate more energy and create a different lifestyle. The energy was all on two.”

Contemporary sportswear on two, called YES, or Young East Sider, is a different story. It’s the fastest-growing and biggest-volume piece of rtw and where Bloomingdale’s has a strong reputation. YES is distinguished by its “breadth of assortment, the depth of the buy and the importance we give to the brands,” Doroff said. There’s a wide price range, too, from a private label Aqua cardigan for $58, to Helmut Lang leather pants priced at $920.

To sustain momentum, YES has been recast from an open jumble to an elevated presentation of designer shops, with a stronger European contingent, including newcomers to the floor Zadig & Voltaire, Maje, Sandro, Reiss, and soon to open Ted Baker. Also new is the first collection from Rachel Zoe and 10 Crosby Street by Derek Lam. Pre-renovation, there were just three shops on the floor; now there are 20. There are also pumped-up presentations for three “backbone” businesses: T-shirts, denim and Aqua. “There was minimal vendor identity before,” Hruska said. “Now it’s a floor where every resource has its own shop.”

Among other key elements of the renovation:

• A bigger shoe department on two, enlarged by 5,000 square feet, with vendors Aqua, B Brian Atwood, Eileen Fisher, Rachel Zoe, Sorel, Taryn Rose and a make-your-own flip-flop Havaianas shop. “I don’t think we underplayed shoes before,” Gould said. “We just really didn’t have enough room before. There’s a lot of growth to be had.”

• The re-created Lexington Avenue balcony housing fine jewelry, with Ippolita and John Hardy and additions including 5th Season by Roberto Coin, Brumani, Buccellati, Bulgari, Damiani, Di Massima, Di Modolo, Georg Jensen, India Hicks and Paul Morelli, among others. Fine jewelry will be flanked by a visitor center where consultants use iPads programmed to give store directions in nine languages, and a contemporary handbag area with Cornelia Guest, Glamourpuss NYC, Love Moschino, M Z Wallace and Rachel Zoe.

• Walls have been taken down, ceilings heightened, windows uncovered and certain storage space has been converted to selling space, for better visibility off escalators and across the floors.

• Accessories integrated into rtw and shoe shops to provide “full shopping experiences and different ways to merchandise,” Hruska said. “This makes the shops more interesting so customers will spend more time in individual areas.”

• Four new designer shops on four — Burberry London, Burberry Prorsum, Akris Punto and St. John — plus a renovated Maximilian fur department.

• A revamped home floor on seven with an airier feel, including a large Lauren for Ralph Lauren Home shop and new bedding areas from top labels such as Diane von Furstenberg, Frette, Pratesi Sky and Vera Wang.

Also, Bloomingdale’s eased up on its signature black trim, which has served to tie floors together and cast a Bloomingdale’s aura. It remains most apparent on main floor cosmetics, redone two years ago, while the contemporary floor has toned down to a gray finish with cement floors and refined black lines. “It felt too serious before,” Hruska said.

Among the largest shops on three is Burberry Brit, which wraps around the escalator in a 2,000-square-foot setting with digital technology, and Elie Tahari, with just over 2,000 square feet, Venetian plaster, blackened steel walls, a signature glass shelving system and custom-designed light walls with a midcentury grid lighting fixture.

DKNY features floor-to-ceiling video footage of runway shows and photo shoots, and an interactive touch screen that allows shoppers to select videos and read DKNY PR Girl’s blog. And Kate Spade is relatively small, with 500 square feet, yet stands out because of a unique glass enclosure.

Bloomingdale’s 59th Street has seen a spate of renovations since 2004, the last time contemporary sportswear was redone. In subsequent years, bridge, intimate apparel, dresses, coats, men’s contemporary, furniture, rugs, mattresses and designer handbags were all renovated, and the previous largest single renovation was in 2009 when the beauty floor was reinvented.

“We believe we can in many areas of the store give the brand their look within the look of Bloomingdale’s, so it’s not just like it’s a hodgepodge,” Gould said. “In cosmetics, MAC has its look. Chanel has their look, but they’re within the framework of Bloomingdale’s. The second and third floors have a lot of shops but it reads Bloomingdale’s. That’s the key.

“We’re not aspiring to be that designer store,” Gould said, referring to a luxe range seen on Madison Avenue. “I want a store where there is action, energy, a pulse going all the time. That’s good for some, and some people say that’s too much. We think that’s who we are.”

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