By  on January 13, 2006

NEW YORK — Nordstrom is taking a trip down the designer road on its Web site.

On Feb. 6, will launch a designer collections category, a first of sorts for the upscale specialty retailer. The site, which was launched in 1998, already sells collections of Marc by Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Cynthia Steffe, Michael Michael Kors, L.A.M.B. and Theory, but never had a designated designer collections area until now. It aims to enliven the online fashion experience by merging the whimsical illustrations of Ruben Toledo with animation technology and photography.

"We wanted a site that was uniquely Nordstrom and reflective of what we are trying to do in our stores," Pete Nordstrom, president of full-line Nordstrom stores, said. "There is a lot of potential and we want to hold ourselves to the same standards on the Web as we do in the stores. Our customers expect that from us."

The designer collections feature will be launched in two phases. Initially, customers will be able to research the collections before calling to place an order, but by the end of the year, the retailer expects the site to be ready for e-commerce transactions.

"The technology is very complex and it will take another year to get a shopping cart, but that year gives our team the chance to directly interact with the customer, and it will teach our specialists how to offer superior service on the Web," said Sue Patneaude, executive vice president of designer apparel at Nordstrom.

"We knew that when we did it, it needed to be something special. It couldn't look like anything else. Other sites have a nice business, but I felt that most looked like catalogue pages," said Patneaude.

The retailer aimed to translate the energy of the store online, so it asked Toledo, who has been illustrating Nordstrom's ad campaign for four years, to create the look for the designer collections area.

"I wanted to give our guests the feeling that they have been handed the keys to their favorite designer shops," Toledo said of the project, so he created an illustrated boulevard of 10 designer boutiques devoted to Giorgio Armani, Blumarine, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Missoni, Ralph Lauren and Roberto Cavalli."We worked closely with the designers and their team to make sure each shop has its own flavor that expresses the designer's personality to help the customers feel each new season," Toledo added.

As a result, each store exterior reflects an element of the designer and has Toledo's whimsical touch. Donna Karan's, for instance, is a New York brownstone; Dolce & Gabbana's, an Italian palazzo, and Marc Jacobs', a version of his Los Angeles boutique.

A click on a boutique moves the illustration forward, opening up to its interior. There, customers can view Toledo's version of each designer's store philosophy, replete with clothes, accessories and shoes. Karan's illustrated interior space features wooden furniture and sculptures, and a black-clad saleswoman with a sleek haircut; Dolce & Gabbana's is topped with a chandelier and features three women in sexy Sicilian dresses. Shoppers can then click on an item to be taken to real images of the clothes on models, photographed in an editorial manner.

To offer the same level of customer service as in Nordstrom stores, the site has six designer specialists on hand. Inside each boutique there will be an icon to click on for assistance, and the shopper will be able to communicate with the specialists by e-mail or by calling them. These specialists will work with the merchandising team out of the downtown Seattle store, where the merchandise is stocked.

"The challenge on the Web is to give great customer service, so we feel this specialist team will help us tremendously," Patneaude said.

The same designer buyers who buy for the store will buy for the site, so there will be no disconnect between the two. "We are buying it like our best-performing stores, and that's what designers have said is their standard," Patneaude added.

The end of the boulevard highlights a Nordstrom store facade with a special tab that links the shoppers to a page with information on in-store designer events.

There is room for two more boutiques on the boulevard. According to Patneaude, these could be merchandised by themes, such as couture, or its Via C department featuring rising stars of fashion.

Patneaude wouldn't break out the cost of the project or disclose sales projections. She has no doubt that fashion-savvy customers will feel comfortable about buying high-ticket looks online. "This designer customer knows what designers she wants, she knows her sizes and she knows her pieces," Patneaude noted. "She just wants it, and we will get it to her."

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