By  on February 23, 2005

NEW YORK — Though metro Washington is filled with suburban malls and shopping areas like Georgetown, there is nothing to rival Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue.

Soon, however, the luxury landscape will change with the opening of The Collection at Chevy Chase, 5471-5481 Wisconsin Avenue, set for October. Considered the area’s first true designer enclave, the 112,000-square-foot complex has signed Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Max Mara, Cartier and Polo Ralph Lauren, and is seeking five or six additional luxury tenants for the remaining space.

The complex is situated between existing Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue stores, right on the border of Washington and Chevy Chase, Md. “It’s the perfect place to reproduce Rodeo Drive in Washington,” Edward Hall Asher, president and chief operating officer of The Chevy Chase Land Co., said in an interview. “Saks opened in 1960 and Neiman’s around 1978, but I never understood why between the two there was a 8-acre parking lot and a small strip center.”

Chevy Chase Land, a 115-year-old family owned developer and property management company, owns and manages The Collection at Chevy Chase. It’s a $165 million project, including about $27 million for the value of the land. In total, Chevy Chase Land owns and manages more than 2 million square feet of office, retail, residential and warehouse space in Washington, suburban Maryland and Virginia. Gavin M. Farr, the company’s chairman, is the great-grandson of Sen. Francis Newlands, founder of Chevy Chase.

With its rich history in the community, Chevy Chase Land feels confident it knows the population and what’s missing from the shopping routine, which is a real luxury experience. The company is building The Collection at Chevy Chase with two buildings, one with two stories and more than 40,000 square feet; the other with three stories and more than 60,000 square feet.

There is also a 200,000-square-foot mixed-use building that will house Mills Corp.’s new headquarters in spring 2006 and include 100,000 square feet of neighborhood retailers.

Situated 5 miles from The White House and about 50 yards from the Friendship Heights/Chevy Chase Metro stop, The Collection at Chevy Chase is expected to draw office workers, residents of the area and tourists. “The demographics are broad, which is what retailers love,” Asher said. He added that while there should be a wide age range, from 30 to 80, the clientele would be skewed toward the older and more affluent.Many luxury firms have been reluctant to invest in Washington, long considered a button-down, Brooks Brothers kind of town for politicians and diplomats, with little appeal to the fashion set and lacking in real estate venues with the appropriate trappings and amenities where designers would feel comfortable coming together. There are smatterings of designer stores in such places as Tysons Corner in McLean, Va., Fairfax Square and Georgetown, but nothing with a critical mass of luxury of the magnitude The Collection at Chevy Chase plans to offer.

The limited parking has been another big issue for retailers, but officials from The Collection at Chevy Chase said they’re creating 1,400 parking spaces, and providing four ways in and three ways out of the complex. Also, most retailers will have two entrances, on Wisconsin Avenue and off the parking lot.

“Twenty years ago, Washington was just a government town. Now it’s a diversified economy,” observed Douglas Firstenberg, principal, Stonebridge Associates, the project’s developer. “The difference here is the critical mass of luxury, the street nature of the project and the ability to give the tenants all their own individual identity. Everybody is going to create their own presence. Tiffany will have the Tiffany look, and Polo is doing a new generation of the mansion.”

Tiffany and Cartier are relocating and expanding from sites across the street. Tiffany is taking 7,400 square feet over two levels, and Cartier is creating a 1,850-square-foot store similar to prototypes on Fifth Avenue and in Japan. “Relocating to The Collection, along with other respected retailers, is the right move for Tiffany in terms of the growth potential we see in the Chevy Chase area,” said Beth O. Canavan, executive vice president of Tiffany & Co.

Max Mara will have two levels and 8,415 square feet, including its first Max Mara cafe in the U.S. with 3,000 square feet. “Five years ago, I was driving around Washington with Luigi Maramotti [a son of the founder of Max Mara] and he was questioning why we don’t have a shop in Washington, D.C,” recalled Iraklis Karabassis, an adviser to the project who also is the licensee for the Max Mara store and cafe, as well as for about 100 other shops in the D.C. area and elsewhere, including Benetton and Sisley. “We saw a lot of disorder and not one place that made him feel comfortable with the right tenants.”Iraklis said Max Mara has a goal of $4 million in first-year sales in the store, and $2.5 million to $3 million for the restaurant, which are connected.

Said Firstenberg, “We started planning this project in 1995 and we met Iraklis three-and-a-half years ago to just launch the leasing effort. The key thing was patience to be able to assemble this group of tenants, but Iraklis had confidence that we could bring in these people, if we took the right approach.”

Dior, Firstenberg added, has been servicing the Washington customer for years. “They’ve just been doing it outside Washington.”

“Many international clients spend time in the suburbs surrounding D.C., whether visiting or maintaining a residence. Dior is well-known and familiar to them,” said Marla Sabo, president and chief operating officer, Christian Dior Couture USA.

 Vuitton is taking 4,576 square feet and Polo is creating a two-level, 16,000-square-foot mansion-type setting inspired by the Rhinelander flagship on Madison Avenue in Manhattan and Polo’s Chicago store.

The center, designed by the architectural firm  Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, will have trees, a 9,000-square-foot sculpture garden, and Clyde’s restaurant, which is considered a Washington institution. “Our focus was to move away from a mall format,” Bill Hellmuth, a principal of HOK, said in a statement. “Upscale shoppers prefer shopping in individual stores, similar to walking down Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive, with street visibility and access. The Collection is all about retail, not simply an office building that has the ground floor dedicated to some stores.”

Said Larry Horton, leasing consultant to the project: “The designers will be editing their collections for this market, just as their L.A. merchandise would be different from the stores in New York, but they will still provide a full range of product for the Washington market, which is a fashion-conscious customer looking for quality luxury goods.”

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