CHICAGO MERCHANTS OBJECT TO VICTORIA'S SECRET DISPLAYS

Byline: Annie Gowen

CHICAGO--The new Victoria's Secret flagship store here is acquiring a decidedly unladylike reputation among some officials of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association.
The complaints of the local merchants group--unanswered by the retailer since the store opened in April--concern Victoria's Secret's use of bright pink color schemes for its window displays of frilly lace panties and nightgowns, as well as window cards describing the chain's Miracle Bra, its private label cleavage enhancer.
"It screams sex," complained realtor Jacqueline Hayes, chairwoman of the merchant organization's committee on planning, preservation and urban design. "It brings to mind nothing less than a brothel."
What Hayes finds particularly offensive are "Pepto-Bismol" pink displays of oversized plastic hearts and a Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired painting of a rose, which she described as depicting "very female origins." The large painting is in the second-floor windows of the two-story unit.
Since the 11,000-square-foot store's opening on April 6 at 830 North Michigan Ave., in the heart of Chicago's "Magnificent Mile," Hayes said the organization has been flooded with "hundreds" of calls protesting the windows.
The Chicago unit is being labeled a "prototype" for new or remodeled Victoria's Secret stores, said a spokesman for The Limited Inc., the Columbus, Ohio-based parent company of Victoria's Secret. The spokesman, however, declined comment on the complaints about the unit.
Hayes said she has met with officials from Grosvenor International, the Canadian developer that owns the building in which Victoria's Secret is located, to tell them of her group's unhappiness with the store's display. The building also houses Borders Books & Music and Filene's Basement, which have also drawn complaints from the association about excessive signs.
Hayes said the merchants' organization wants Victoria's Secret officials to respond to their complaints.
"They said initially that if there was a public outcry, they would tone things down," she said. "And there has been a public outcry."
Reacting to the controversy, city council representative Burt Natarus--alderman for the 42nd Ward, in which the store is located--has introduced tougher measures to control the amount and size of signs, as well as the intensity of lighting at stores along the upscale boulevard. This modification of zoning regulations will require public hearings, not yet set.
"Over the years, we have tried to create an image of high fashion," said Natarus. In the past, he noted, the neighborhood leaders have been able to get stores to change displays or signs that were thought to be not in keeping with the area's image.
The alderman said retailers on the avenue have "long had a tacit understanding with city officials on matters of subtlety and good taste."
Contacted last week for comment, John Flavin, president of Grosvenor International (Atlantic) Ltd., Washington, the U.S. arm of the developer, said: "We have met with the alderman. I have conveyed the spirit of that meeting to the tenants--Victoria's Secret, Borders and Filene's Basement. They're interested in being good neighbors. As far as The Limited goes, they're certainly not trying to antagonize anyone, but I don't know whether they have any response."

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