By  on December 5, 2008

NEW YORK — Zara’s new flagship at 500 Fifth Avenue has something that’s rarely been seen in the fast-fashion chain’s locations: a security sensor attached to a $1,099 mink-colored leather coat. The three-level, 12,000-square-foot unit represents a new prototype featuring materials and decor that project a more upscale vibe. It’s also the Spanish retailer’s biggest store in Manhattan and offers the largest assortment of men’s, women’s and children’s apparel of any of its New York units.

Unlike the shiny white stores of an earlier incarnation, Zara’s Fifth Avenue flagship is darker and moodier. With straight lines, floors covered in veiny brown limestone, smoked glass, polished steel and backlit shelves in shades of chestnut, it’s reminiscent of the Gucci flagship in Trump Tower. A dramatic glass elevator rises three stories.

The store was designed by the retailer’s architecture team and while all new Zara stores share some characteristics, the Fifth Avenue flagship “has its own exclusive personality traits reflected in a lighting scheme designed to highlight the collections,” said Jacki Lee, Zara’s Northeast women’s director of stores. “It has unique decorative elements, such as white lights arrayed throughout the first floor.”

The ground floor, which houses the Woman collection, opens onto the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Women’s wear continues on the second floor, where the children’s department is also located. The men’s collection is on the lower level.

The Fifth Avenue flagship brings Zara’s store count in Manhattan to six. “During the first quarter of 2009, Zara will open a new store on the Upper West Side,” Lee said. “We see room for growth in New York, but we don’t have plans for immediate openings.”

During the first quarter, the company will open several other stores in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston. “Regarding the expansion of Zara in North America, we expect to maintain during the next years our growth, depending on the real estate opportunities that could arise,” added Lee.

The Zara logo has been changed and updated; the letters are stylized and more refined. A new fragrance collection consists of seven essences. There’s also a new women’s collection of organic cotton T-shirts with five designs in five colors. Each T-shirt comes in an individual organic cotton bag.

Better fabrics are evident in the collection. For example, several blouses boast hangtags reading “100 percent silk.” A Zara Woman velvet jacket is priced at $189; a black feather bolero, $89; a black crepe de chine dress, $129, and a wool cape coat, $259. Zara’s quick-to-market manufacturing and delivery system allows it to capitalize on trends such as snake prints, with a jacket, $149, and skirt, $79, both with brown faux leather trim. The store also has the real thing. In addition to the $1,099 leather jacket, there’s a double-faced, double-breasted hip-length brown sheep’s leather coat for $949, prices not typical for the retailer.

“Zara has a large target group,” said Lee. “The objective is to dress people that, despite their cultural differences, age or way of life, share a special feeling for fashion. Every Zara store is conceived as a merchandising lab. The Inditex [Zara’s parent] business model begins at the point of sale, the store. The store collects information received from the customer and sends it to design centers in real time, then implements a process that [makes use of the] request as quickly as possible. The response from the customer with new requests set the process going again and again. This new store, like the rest of the Zara stores, is a testing ground.”

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