NEW YORK — The paint has been peeled off the transoms, the ceiling’s elaborate moldings have been restored and the merchandising has a discriminating air.
Bergdorf Goodman has overhauled much of its prime selling space, spending a pretty penny to encourage shoppers to do the same, and to cast a stronger identity. It has become elegant and formal, from being dated and dusty.
Much of the construction work on the main and second floors is complete, enabling Bergdorf’s to bring in a host of exclusives, from Verdura’s vivid baubles and Buccellati’s fine vintage jewelry to exotic skin and bejeweled handbags from Darby Scott.
The array of products from fine jewelers and accessory artisans with limited distribution lends a sense of discovery. To some extent, Bergdorf’s always had that quality due to its truncated layout: a series of rooms, chambers and bends that sometimes conceals what’s just ahead. That’s because Bergdorf’s, on Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets, was originally a mansion built in 1928 and designed to be rented out as seven different shops in the event the economy tanked. Bergdorf’s moved into one of the spaces and expanded into the others over the years. Its men’s business moved to a separate site on the opposite side of Fifth Avenue in 1990, opening the way for an expanded women’s business.
Thirteen years later, and with no room left for expansion, the primary way Bergdorf’s women’s business can grow significantly is by renovating the site to increase productivity. Bergdorf’s will spend about $70 million and touch most floors, aside from the four-year-old beauty floor below the main level and the second-floor shoe area, which opened last year.
Of course, the main floor sets the tone. The classic architecture has been restored, with molded plaster ceilings and heightened archways, and contemporized by new fixturing. There’s “eyeball” lighting patterned into the ceiling as if part of the architecture, and subtle cove lighting. Furnishings are varied and sophisticated, with vitrines in mother-of-pearl, shagreen or macassar. There’s also a French-style rosewood and tortoiseshell breakfront reminiscent of the Thirties displaying Marc Jacobs handbags, and a 19th-century Baccarat chandelier on the 58th Street side, under a rotunda.Across the main floor, there’s an easy transition to different categories, with a feeling of comfort and continuity. Inset rugs, oversized Versaille parquet wood floors and the molding extend through the main floor. Velvet chaises and table lamps further the residential ambience and encourage visitors to lounge for a while, although the fancier furnishings will require a doubling up on the housekeeping. The floor has been opened up somewhat, with fewer caselines and increased use of wall display.
On the south, or 57th Street, side of the store, the “luxury room” houses Verdura, Lambertson Truex accessories and handbags from Carlos Falchi, Cece Cord, Darby Scott and Anthony Luciano. Moving north, there is fine jewelry and watches, then handbags and, farthest north on the 58th Street side, the rotunda housing evening accessories. The 58th Street entrance, where the limousines tend to pull up, has a restored transom that shows more glass and natural light. To the west, there is an arcade for furs, scarves and gloves.
The renovation has enabled Bergdorf’s to break from the pack by abandoning the shop-in-shop accessory format so many other stores have on their main floors. Bergdorf’s shifted about 35 percent of its handbags to the second floor to free up space on the main floor for less widely distributed lines and for merchandising flexibility. Bergdorf’s can change the presentations to suit the season or the trend of the moment since it’s not locked in with hard shops.
By moving some of its designer handbags, Bergdorf’s was able to reinvent its second floor with “world of” shops for Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Chanel, Alexander McQueen and Giorgio Armani, selling ready-to-wear and accessory collections together in each shop. Shops for Dolce & Gabbana and Christian Dior are expected to open next spring. “These will be unique concepts,” said Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director. Once they’re installed, “we’ll have a full circle of designer shops around the floor.” Before, it zigzagged, making it confusing. Walls have been removed to create a smoother loop.
“We are extremely proud of our renovation,” said Ron Frasch, chairman and chief executive of Bergdorf’s. He said it was a joint effort between interior designer Randall A. Ridless and the Bergdorf’s organization. “We were very clear in terms of what we wanted to achieve and worked very diligently with Randy to come up with the ideas. We examined other buildings in New York, created mood or inspiration boards and we stayed pretty true to our objectives.”Essentially, that boiled down to projecting luxury, differentiated merchandising and a residential environment, and a Bergdorf’s identity, and not a cacophony of brands. The shoe department on two, with its salon ambience, was the inspiration for the main floor.
Frasch also said that the renovation was long overdue and that the store had failed to live up to the excitement and anticipation generated by its window displays. Over the years, management changes, financial considerations and indecision on how to do it — like the case of too many cooks — stalled the project. For the current project, aside from management having its own ideas, opinions from customers and consultants were solicited.
“We heard from many people that the problem with retailers is that they all suffer from a lack of identity and weren’t unique and that everyone has the same lineup of designer shops,” Frasch said. “We were extremely conscious of that and wanted to approach some of the large designer businesses differently than we had in the past.”
Although the designer brands on the second floor have their own signature shops, their exteriors are framed in a Bergdorf’s ebony trim that is a common element throughout the floor. By relocating designer accessories to the second floor, brands can be presented in their entirety, as they are intended to be viewed, Frasch said. “This became kind of the guiding direction for us, and it allowed our main floor to be a place of discovery,” he added.
The renovating will go on. The west side of the main floor, primarily selling soft accessories, will be partly redone in the spring. The fourth floor, to contain J. Mendel furs, Versace and Valentino, will be redone beginning in November. Additional floors will be renovated later.
Bergdorf’s was founded 110 years ago on Fifth Avenue and 19th Street by Herman Bergdorf, an immigrant from Alsace. Edwin Goodman, a tailor he hired, eventually bought the business, and relocated it a few times until landing it on Fifth and 57th, where the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt was formerly located. Goodman designed the building as seven separate shops, with a penthouse apartment on the top for his family. “It was never an easy store to get around in,” Frasch said.
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