Century 21 has a new concept to undercut the incoming competition downtown.
This story first appeared in the November 18, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The format, called C21 Edition, is a setting for designer sample sales and vintage luxury with a brass-embellished Madison Avenue aesthetic that transcends the usual off-price aura.
“C21 Edition is a higher-level boutique within our store — an elevated showcase for the brands that deserve it,” Raymond Gindi, the co-chief executive officer of the Century 21 off-price department store chain, told WWD during a tour of the space Monday.
“Sample sales never respect brands or what they stand for. With C21, we are providing a full package of operations, service and security,” added Valentino Vettori, Century 21’s chief strategy officer, who designed the space.
“We’re thinking out of the box from what we traditionally buy,” said Alicia Liu, Century 21’s senior fashion director.
C21 Edition is housed inside Century 21’s Manhattan flagship. While the main entrance to Century 21 is on 22 Cortlandt Street, C21 Edition has its own entrance at 21 Dey Street on the corner of Church Street, and its own elevator, for a sense of exclusivity.
C21 Edition has about a year of designer sample sales in the works already; each to run a month or two, some featuring more than one label.
The format launches Wednesday with a two-day private sale featuring vintage luxury from Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Gucci, Cartier and other labels, including handbags, watches, jewelry, scarves and ties. The products are supplied by LXR & CO., a Montreal-based firm that retails and wholesales vintage luxury. The sale opens up to the general public after Thursday, runs through December, and will sell products at 50 to 70 percent off the retail price [excluding Hermès], in line with the off-pricer’s standard price structure at up to 65 percent off.
Frederick Mannella, president of LXR, said the vintage bags fall into three groupings: never carried; almost new, or with slight signs of being carried. On display on Monday, among other products, were plenty of exotic skin bags, a more-than-ample Louis Vuitton presentation, and even some one-of-a-kind Hermès Birkin bags, bearing the discrete horseshoe insignia. The Birkins are priced from $9,000, to $30,000 in exotic skins, while the Hermès Kelly bags run from $9,000 to $15,000. Some of the bags, Century 21 executives suggested, could even be higher than when originally sold, due to their rarity.
C21 Edition is just the latest maneuver by Century 21 to bolster its stake downtown amid the incoming wave of new retail over the next couple of years that will span the gamut from regular priced and off-price, to fast fashion and top-priced designer. Among those opening in lower Manhattan are Saks Fifth Avenue, Saks Off Fifth, John Varvatos, Tom Ford, Michael Kors and Nordstrom is eyeing lower Manhattan as well but hasn’t found a site yet.
In anticipation of mounting competition, in the last two years, the 225,000-square-foot Century 21 flagship expanded by adding three selling floors to ease much of the congestion, upgraded its checkout system, and installed a J&R Music World shop, among other advances. The company has also been pushing more social media, opening a studio on Church Street for interviews with stylists and photographers and fashion shoots. With the opening of its 130,000-square-foot flagship in downtown Brooklyn on Fulton Street seen in early 2016, Century 21 could hijack some shoppers that would otherwise venture to lower Manhattan.
“The whole revitalization of downtown has really opened up our eyes,” Gindi said.
The 3,000-square-foot two-level C21 Edition is far from what one might expect from an off-pricer. The environment, which will also be used for special events, was created by gutting selling space and eliminating duct work to create 16-foot-tall ceilings, and covering much of the floor and walls in contrasting textures of raw and polished concrete for a neutral palate that helps the merchandise to project. There’s plenty of brass trim, on the custom glass vitrines and as accents on the wood intarsia floors and similarly patterned octagonal wood ceilings. There’s also a 16-foot iron-framed, two-way mirrored wall overlooking the flagship’s main floor; marble walls and marble ceiling preserved from the East River Bank originally on the site until Century 21 moved in the early Sixties, and direct views of One World Trade Center and the Oculus designed by Santiago Calatrava. “It’s the best spot in the world for a selfie,” Gindi said, eyeing the urban landscape just outside.
Gindi wouldn’t disclose the cost to build C21 Edition, but said it was in line with what designers can spend on Madison Avenue to create their shops. Asked to project C21’s productivity, Gindi was about as forthcoming, saying, “It remains to be seen but the AUR [average unit retail price] is much higher than the rest of the store.”