By  on September 13, 2007

NATICK, Mass. — Neiman Marcus' newest store, opening here on Saturday, is an unequivocal statement about the retailer's aim for luxury's stratosphere.

And it's not based only on the $1.9 million drop earrings made from teaspoon-sized Colombian emeralds, or the $26,000 Chanel ombré crocodile purse that is to go on sale at the opening gala Friday night.

The 112,000-square-foot store, located about 20 miles west of Neiman Marcus' downtown Boston unit, is an exercise in how to present merchandise in as close to a gallery setting as possible.

There are 138 pieces of original art commissioned from 13 New England artists. Accent rugs with contemporary geometrics were custom-designed to sit under mannequin groupings. And scattered throughout are props, such as blown glass bubbles, jewel-toned resin cylinders and huge cork drums, which Neiman's visual team developed and scattered through the store to give merchandise a visual lift.

The entire package is wrapped in an exterior facade of rippling metal — to conjure a fluttering dress hem.

"We want to send a message'' that a customer "doesn't need to go into the city to find what she's looking for in the suburbs," store manager Nancy Larson said of a merchandise mix that emphasizes emerging designers as much as stalwarts like St. John.

With competition from the region's first Nordstrom and other luxury boutiques opening in the same Natick Collection mall complex, Neiman Marcus is emphasizing what's unique to its assortment, including a $1,350 patent leather Dolce & Gabbana motorcycle jacket, and an Akris St. Gallen embroidery and tulle dress.

Overall, there is surprisingly little merchandise overlap with Nordstrom, the Natick Collection's other anchor.

The differentiation is indicative of Neiman's "moving upward as our customers do,'' Larson said. "The lack of overlap indicates [Nordstrom] knows who they are and we know who we are."

She declined to give revenue projections for the store.

Natick Collection is Dallas-based Neiman's 39th door, opening just days after the retailer celebrated its 100th birthday. Neiman Marcus operates a smaller store in Boston's Copley Place mall.

Here, with more room to spread out, Neiman Marcus is doing shop-in-shops for designer collections, a men's made-to-measure room and a children's department, which is a regional first. There is an emphasis on emerging designers, such as Italian line 6267, and hot names: Sienna and Savannah Miller's Twenty8Twelve, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's Elizabeth and James, Vera Wang's Lavender label, Tory Burch, 3.1 Phillip Lim and more. Dresses and contemporary sportswear take up 16,350 square feet of the second floor, while couture and eveningwear get 11,329 square feet, the retailer said.Yet, a certain approachability is also emphasized. Nothing is stark, but the density of sheer stuff — mannequins, props, screens, accessories — increases noticeably in women's apparel areas.

"We intend to be warm and friendly — our customers have told us that's important,'' Larson said. "It's meant to be a touch-and-feel environment."

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