NEW YORK — Bloomingdale’s has reignited the retail shoe wars.
On Thursday, the retailer’s 59th Street flagship will unveil a “reimagined” footwear floor saturated with color and whimsy and double down on what the store considers its sweet spot — the designer and contemporary zones.
There’s a wide range, both in terms of price — from $28 Havaianas to $3,000 Chanels — and lifestyle, with nine designer shops lining much of the floor’s perimeter; an athletic department; a contemporary department; “The Showroom” for emerging labels and advanced contemporary lines, and areas spotlighting trends from athletic-influenced styles to sock booties and flats in rich colors or soft hues.
On the service side, associates are “mobile-enabled” to search for style, color and size through the entire store chain and online inventory, and for signaling “service expeditors” in the storage areas to bring out requested items quickly so associates never have to leave customers.
There’s also a “cobbler concierge” offering repairs on men’s and women’s shoes, as well as handbags, including stitching and rubber and leather resoles.
“We are never going to simply redo our floors. We are going to reimagine our businesses,” said Tony Spring, Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive officer.
Bloomingdale’s goal on five, said Spring, was “to rival the best shoe floors in the world.” Those would include Selfridges in London and Saks Fifth Avenue’s 10022-Shoe format.
The most dramatic change with Bloomingdale’s footwear presentation is that now, all women’s shoes are housed on a single, 26,763-square-foot level. Before, women’s contemporary shoes were found on two and designer styles were on four.
While not the biggest footwear presentation in the city — Macy’s Inc. and Saks Fifth Avenue have larger footprints — the Bloomingdale’s floor does seem expansive without seeming redundant.
“Our new shoe floor is over 40 percent bigger than the old two floors combined,” boasted Spring. “We have over 100 brands, 17 that are new to Bloomingdale’s, 34 exclusives, and nine designer boutiques.” Among the new brands to the store: Brian Atwood, Jimmy Choo, Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vuitton, Sophia Webster and Tabitha Simmons.
“We service her entire lifestyle, from salon to contemporary, casual to athletic,” added Francine Klein, Blooomingdale’s vice chairman and general merchandise manager for shoes, handbags, fashion accessories, fashion and fine jewelry, cosmetics and outlets.
“Before it was too segmented, split between very casual and very designer,” said Klein, suggesting that some business could have been to lost to those shopping one level or the other and not both.
In a preview of the new footwear floor last Friday, just when brand representatives were checking out their shops and floor displays, Spring said the new format isn’t about price or playing catchup to retailers around town that years ago began beefing up their own shoe floors, whether it was Saks, Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York or Lord & Taylor.
Bloomingdale’s did seem one step behind in the shoe wars, but Spring said there has been a complicated, top-to-bottom flagship renovation scheme in the works that began two years ago with kids, followed by the home store on levels six, seven and eight. Footwear had to wait its turn to be renovated until furniture was relocated from five to eight and home was completed in the fall.
This year, going forward with the flagship overhaul, much of cosmetics on the main floor, and women’s apparel on two, three and four, will all be redone.
The idea is to have a consistency of tone, the sharp focus on designer and contemporary, and a multi-lifestyle appeal, from category to category, floor to floor.
On the shoe floor, called “The Heart of Shoe York,” there’s plenty of seating, including quilted ottomans and a central banquette lending a sophisticated, yet feminine aura.
There are several whimsical elements, like the gargantuan shoes created by local artists like the shoe with the Statue of Liberty heel by G Felix, Alexandra Romero’s shoe plastered with playbills and Todd Mario’s Nespresso pump with the espresso pods complete. The shoe floor is laced with funny signs, such as those that read: “If loving shoes is wrong, then I don’t want to be right” and “Be a stiletto in a room full of flats.”
As Spring said, those “winks” or quirky features entice you through the floor and differentiate the experience. So does the breadth of assortment, he added.
For Bloomingdale’s this season, it’s like a shoe takeover, with the theatrical giant shoes in plain sight on five as well as on the escalator landings of other floors. “People try to crawl into the shoes,” said John Klimkowski, operating vice president of visual merchandising and windows. More often, they’re taking selfies.
The windows, too, are in shoe mode, with the Lexington Avenue bank an homage to shoe designers on five and New York landmarks like the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim Museum and the Oculus. Bloomingdale’s New York ties are played up further with video monitors along escalator banks showing New York landmarks and The Heart of Shoe York campaign.
Eager shoppers can ride the newly installed Express elevator to the shoe floor on five.
Off the escalators, Bloomingdale’s signature checkerboard B-way leads straight to the designer shoe boutiques, which average 300 square feet each. There’s Gucci, Ferragamo, Dior, Chloé, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Fendi. A Chanel shop is under construction and is expected to open in June.
Exclusive merchandise from designers including Dior’s checkerboard sneaker and Jimmy Choo’s sparkly pump with a huge bow are displayed in vertical vitrines.
Steps from the designer salons is the contemporary area marked by rectangular and oval-shaped marble tables for sandals, flats, sneakers, heels and boots. Among the contemporary brands are Chiara Ferragni, Kenzo, Zespa and Joshua Sanders.
M. Gemi, an online-only brand for Italian handmade shoes, has formed its only in-store partnership with Bloomingdale’s, a fit shop where every Monday, products are displayed and consumers can get custom-fitted in a shoe and within two to three days receive their order at home.
The “Showroom” for advance contemporary and emerging designers, in the $300 to $500 price range generally, fills a niche between contemporary and designer lines, with such collections as Creatures of Comfort, Opening Ceremony, Loeffler Randall and Rag & Bone. Brands come and go each season.
Also, Aqua, Bloomingdale’s private fashion brand, has introduced footwear with the launch of the floor. And there is a long athletic section with workout mannequins and such brands as Puma, Adidas, Adidas by Stella McCartney and New Balance.
“The floor is very easy to navigate. There is a very natural flow,” said Jennifer Jones, operating vice president and divisional merchandise manager of women’s shoes. “It’s all about discovery.”
According to the executives, best-sellers are styles in bright, saturated colors; softer pastels; slides; mules; espadrilles; sneakers with woven trims, and sock sneakers.
“There was a time where we definitely saw the interest in height coming down and the idea of having comfort and wearing sneakers becoming acceptable for work,” observed Jones. “But now we are starting to see a re-balance with high heels coming back.”
“We have everything, from salon to athletic presentations, casual as well as dressy,” said Klein. “We can satisfy anyone, no matter what her lifestyle is.”
Because of all the stockkeeping units required and the labor-intensive nature of footwear, some retailers say it’s one of the tougher areas in the store to make money in. But it’s also the category that many women crave most and the selling floor that’s typically the busiest.
As Spring said, “It’s a core category. We have to win in this category.”