Byline: Michael Marlow / Sharon Edelson / Georgia Lee / Elaine Glusac

LOS ANGELES--Rodeo Drive is in the midst of renewal.
The celebrated Beverly Hills shopping street has added new stores, widened its retail mix and adopted a friendlier attitude for the Nineties. The changes have resulted in a revitalized shopping district that boasts one of its lowest vacancy rates in the past 10 years.
"I don't know how anybody can be in the luxury goods business and not be on Rodeo Drive," said David Salz, president and chief executive officer of Alfred Dunhill.
This month, the Austrian hosiery maker Wolford opened a boutique on the 400 block, the northernmost part of Rodeo, filling one of the few remaining vacancies. In the next several weeks, Georges Marciano, Zegna and Iceberg will roll out new stores, joining recent additions Fendi, Istante, Leon Max and Yves Saint Laurent.
"There is a lot of life happening on Rodeo Drive," said Linda LoRe, president and ceo of Giorgio Beverly Hills. "There is little available space left."
The Rodeo renewal follows a period of difficulty. While all California retailers have faced tough challenges in the past few years, Rodeo Drive has had to deal with more than most. In addition to a relentless statewide recession and earthquakes, fires and civil unrest, Rodeo Drive has had an image problem.
Few shopping streets reflected the high-flying Eighties as did Rodeo Drive. Judith Krantz set "Scruples," her best-selling tale of excess and ostentation, in a boutique on the street. But as the glitzy Eighties made way for the more practical Nineties, Rodeo Drive found itself trapped by its own snob appeal--something it had cultivated during better times. Limos that used to jam the street in front of pricy designer storefronts veered a block east to The Gap and Williams-Sonoma on Beverly Drive. Instead of becoming places where locals could relax, Rodeo stores were seen by some, including Gene Pressman, co-chairman of Barneys New York, as snobbish designer "museums."
In one stroke, the street entered a new era. Few store openings have changed the dynamics of their surrounding neighborhood like Guess Ranch. When the Marciano Brothers, Beverly Hills residents and founders of Guess Inc., opened a western-themed shop to sell their more moderate denim offerings, Rodeo was changed.
"There used to be this label that you could not shop Rodeo Drive unless you were going to spend $1,000," said Paul Marciano, president and advertising director of Guess. "Then there was the end of the Eighties, when Rodeo Drive took a serious hit. You saw a lot of closings and vacancies. Now, with new stores, it is a place not only for high couture such as Yves Saint Laurent, Versace and Gucci."
Fred Hayman, the Rodeo Drive shopkeeper who is fashion adviser to the Academy Awards show, said the street has entered a period of understated elegance.
"Now I park the Rolls out front only in the afternoon and not every day," Hayman said. While the bright yellow Rolls-Royce is still a trademark of the store, Hayman has become more discreet about displaying it outside the store.
The resurgence in retail along the Wilshire corridor hasn't hurt Rodeo Drive, either. The arrival of Barneys New York a block from Rodeo on Wilshire a year ago has brought a younger, more trend-conscious customer to Beverly Hills. Later this year, Saks is expanding its fashion presence with a new men's store in the old I. Magnin building. And Bloomingdale's, which is planning to open on Beverly Drive, a block east, in 1997, is expected to complete the area's retail picture.

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