By  on November 28, 2007

Saks Fifth Avenue has elevated the profiles of contemporary, designer and beauty categories at South Coast Plaza with renovations that more fully bring the store into the age of branded retailing.

Departments have been rearranged and expanded, and shop-in-shops and vendors added to spotlight the Costa Mesa, Calif., location's edited selection of high-end offerings from leading labels. Two levels and about 68,000 square feet of the three-floor unit's 105,000 square feet have been redone, with much of the remaining space slated for construction by early next year.

"It opened in 1979 and not that much happened to the store since then," said Gretchen Pace, vice president and general manager of the unit, which is the smallest mall anchor among Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and Macy's. "When we did the renovation, we tightened up the focus and honed our identity....A woman can find all her needs here,'' including contemporary, denim, designer, jewelry and handbags. "I don't think I could say the same before."

Gone are the wood barrel railings and warm color palette that oozed the Seventies. In its place, Saks has produced a cool aesthetic dominated by glass, metal and architectural accents — walls are partly lined with geometric tiling — and hues of taupe, charcoal and white.

The contemporary, children's and cosmetics departments have been moved to the first floor, with the jewelry, handbags and men's sections on the second floor. The third floor, which is scheduled for remodeling in the spring, contains a variety of women's business from bridal to moderate sportswear and evening dresses.

The contemporary section has grown to almost 12,300 square feet from 7,700 square feet. The center of contemporary houses denim, where jeans by labels such as Seven For All Mankind, J Brand, Joe's, True Religion, Rock & Republic and Citizens of Humanity are piled on tables or swing on racks. Denim sales at the South Coast store "consistently rank in the top five of Saks," Pace said.

Surrounding premium denim are contemporary collections, children's wear and contemporary's less formal sportswear entrants, with Juicy Couture, Splendid, C&C California, James Perse and Ella Moss being this group's prototypes. Labels featured in contemporary collections are Joie, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc by Marc Jacobs, BCBG Max Azria, L.A.M.B., Ya Ya Aflalo, See by Chloé, Alice + Olivia, Nicholas K and Nanette Lepore. Milly, Trovata and Young Fabulous & Broke are new to the contemporary area."There is a youthful customer that lives here, and a youthful mind-set," Pace said.

The children's clothes look remarkably similar to their adult contemporary counterparts, with Splendid and Juicy Couture key brands. In California's Orange County, middle-aged women resemble their kids, and their kids are miniaturized adults, observed Kari Miller, director of fashion and public relations for Saks in Southern California.

"I had 50 ladies telling me what their daughters wore," Pace said, explaining how the children's department came together. "A smart retailer lets the customer direct them, and Saks lets us specialize to our market."

An array of cosmetics is next to contemporary, covering 7,573 square feet, up from 5,331, and has everything from fragrance to skin care to makeup. Chantecaille, Giorgio Armani, My Blend and Aqua di Parma are among the recently introduced beauty brands.

Armani, SK-II, Jo Malone and Chanel have shop-in-shops in the beauty department. A fragrance bar is at the rear with bottles from Bond No. 9, Viktor & Rolf, Prada, Chanel, Guerlain and Emilio Pucci, among others. "It is like a cocktail bar where you can personalize your mix," Pace said.

Accessories — from handbags to jewelry to sunglasses — is a floor above contemporary and cosmetics. A set-aside sunglass niche, with Chanel, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, allows customers to pick out and try on merchandise, unlike what Miller described as the previous "bakery-style" display. Jewelry, once enclosed in cases more toward the rear of the floor, is prominently positioned near the store's entrance to the mall.

New jewelry resources include Anthony Nak, Marco Bicego, Temple St. Clair and Gurhan.

Space dedicated to handbags has increased to 7,203 square feet from 2,897 square feet. Dolce & Gabbana, Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton have shop-in-shops, and Prada and Gucci will complete their shops soon. Also on the handbag floor are clutches, satchels and shoulder bags by Marc Jacobs, Cynthia Rowley, Jimmy Choo, Goldenbleu, Yves Saint Laurent, Kooba, Rodo, Mary Norton, Versace, Badgley Mischka, Foley & Corinna, Botkier, Valentino and Alexis Hudson.

"It really wasn't a store of shops before; that is a new complexion," Pace said. "It has created a different kind of shopping experience going from shop to shop. The store didn't have that kind of brand identification....A customer now is more brand-savvy and more interested in shopping the brands."The South Coast Plaza location is one of several Saks, including those in Manhattan, Chicago and Beverly Hills, which have been or will be overhauled. Pace declined to discuss the price tag for the South Coast revamp or the anticipated sales impact. Overall, Saks budgeted $125 million to $150 million for capital expenditures this year and has planned for about the same amount next year.

Saks reported a robust third quarter, during which profits more than tripled and sales increased 14.2 percent. Pace wouldn't break out sales for South Coast, although she said the store was up for the year and she had seen a bump in handbag purchases after the renovation.

"The goal is to develop the store'' to the top-producing flagship level, Pace said. "We are in a flagship mall."

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