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COSTA MESA, Calif. — Bloomingdale’s scored the chain’s biggest opening day at its 248,000-square-foot store in South Coast Plaza here on Thursday, posting $1.5 million to $1.6 million in sales, market sources said.

The launch was a confidence builder for Bloomingdale’s in its four-year-old brand strategy of raising the bar with each market entry. It also has executives forecasting that South Coast Plaza might be the best or second best branch, matching or exceeding the performance of the 337,000-square-foot San Francisco flagship that opened in September, which held the previous opening-day record of about $1 million.

On the night before the opening, Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive officer, surveyed the 850 guests at the store party benefiting the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and thought aloud that the community had a sophisticated and healthy appetite for shopping that surpassed other California markets. “I can just feel it,” Gould said. “This is a spectacular, fashion-oriented crowd, from an upscale point of view. You can see what people are wearing — their shoes, their handbags.”

It hasn’t always been easy for Bloomingdale’s in the Golden State. Some California store openings in the Nineties lacked the sophisticated look and designer lines of new or renovated units such as South Coast Plaza, San Francisco, Manhattan’s SoHo, and Chestnut Hill, Mass. Bloomingdale’s embarked on a brand strategy in 2002 to differentiate from the department store crowd and sell limited distributed contemporary and designer lines and cosmetic brands that other department stores wouldn’t carry. The retailer also sought to narrow the price gap with Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus and quell comparisons with Macy’s, which, like Bloomingdale’s, is a division of Federated Department Stores.

“Since 2001, the average unit sale has increased at a compounded rate of 9.5 percent a year,” Gould said. “The upscale designer business — nondepartment store lines — in 2001 represented 44 percent of our business. It’s currently exactly 70 percent of our business.” He described Bloomingdale’s gradual but steady buildup of designer offerings as “just an ongoing process of chipping away. Why did Chanel sell us here? Why did Vuitton? They saw what transpired in San Francisco. Now, South Coast Plaza represents incremental business opportunities for high-end designers.”

This story first appeared in the May 8, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The chain’s newest unit is its most elegant, and among Bloomingdale’s most designer-driven branches. It’s also one of the most carefully edited stores, merchandised to tap Orange County’s penchant for color, casual style and designer accessories that glimmer with hardware. Executives consider the setting more intimate than San Francisco, with its smaller square footage, lower ceilings and higher proportion of casual clothes.

“We are very committed to elevating Bloomingdale’s as a contemporary, upscale department store with a full-fledged home store,” said Tony Spring, senior executive vice president.

The store speaks to the designer point of view right at the entrance from the mall. It’s anchored by Chanel and Louis Vuitton accessories shops on either side. The perimeters to about the middle of the store are lined with other designer accessories shops for Fendi and Ferragamo, as well as Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein.

There are several unique installations by designer brands, including a state-of-the-art Chanel cosmetics counter with a ticker tape announcing products and events, and adjustable lighting to simulate daylight or candlelight and different moods and occasions.

Burberry has a new concept accessories shop, marked by different wood tones and a hybrid of open-sell and caseline displays. Crème de la Mer also has one of its new showcases, marked by a fish tank, and Bloomingdale’s created a 1,000-square-foot shop featuring contemporary handbags from vendors, including L.A.M.B., Juicy Couture and Marc by Marc Jacobs.

The sunglass department is designed like an optical shop, with desks, chairs and mirrors for more comfortable shopping.

The Ellen Tracy shop also sports a new modern look, with a darker frame and pale wood backing.

Other labels sold at the store, the chain’s 38th unit and eighth in California, include Giorgio Armani Black Label, Armani Collezioni, Akris Punto, St. John Collection, Sonia Rykiel, Burberry, Tory Burch, Elie Tahari, Ralph Lauren Black Label and M Missoni. Contemporary collections include Diane von Furstenberg, Vince, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Juicy Couture, Theory, Da-Nang and the private label Aqua. Accessories and fine jewelry brands offered include David Yurman, John Hardy, Judith Ripka, Baume & Mercier, and some key cosmetic vendors are Mac, Kiehl’s and Jo Malone.

Bloomingdale’s signature black mirrored trim, reminiscent of Chanel, is evident in the store’s three levels, with the exception of the contemporary Y.E.S. department. Future openings could have the trim throughout, said Jack Hruska, executive vice president of creative services. Then there are the Orange County touches, such as artwork depicting orange groves and the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. (There was an orange carpet, not a red one, for the opening.)

The Aventura, Fla. unit, Bloomingdale’s best in the state, as well as those in Roosevelt Field in Garden City, N.Y., Bergen County, N.J. and Newport Beach, Calif. are also slated for renovations and merchandising changes in line with the brand strategy, which calls for elevated marketing chainwide.

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