With Neiman Marcus in Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side, the thinking transcends the four walls of the retail box.
“The store is really the reflection of where we are going — building a luxury platform,” Geoffroy van Raemdonck, chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, told WWD.
“Today, we generate $100 million in sales from customers online who live in New York City and $200 million when you consider the Greater New York area. But the platform progresses fully when we have a physical presence. We are not looking at this as opening a store. It’s about reinforcing the customer experience by opening a store.”
On Friday, the three-level, 188,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus opens as the anchor of The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards. It’s Neiman’s 43rd store, first in New York City and a gamble for the 118-year-old Dallas-based retailer, as well as for more than 100 other stores and restaurants opening there. They’re all betting that tourists and New Yorkers will visit the sprawling Hudson Yards complex, which will continue to add office and residential space over the next few years, and spend time shopping in a part of town untested in retail.
Curiosity surrounds Neiman’s and the 28-acre Hudson Yards development with its array of sky-high office and residential towers, wide range of retail and upscale restaurants, Shed theater, and giant outdoor sculpture called The Vessel. The complex is dense, different both architecturally speaking and for its mix of attractions. It redefines the West Side.
Neiman’s decision to open in Manhattan’s newest neighborhood has met some skepticism and was made long before van Raemdonck joined NMG as ceo in February 2018. Yet it’s clear he’s put his stamp on the store and that he perceives the project as pivotal for the business.
In an interview with WWD, his first discussing the store in depth and the philosophy behind it, van Raemdonck suggested it’s about creating a testing ground for services and experiences Neiman’s hasn’t provided before, differentiating the assortment with certain brands and exclusives not sold elsewhere in the city, and creating “a next-generation” store for potential locations in the future and for adaptations to existing units. Last year, Neiman’s launched its “Idea Factory” to create an array of concepts, products and experiences — from piercing and personalizing of fashion products, to epicure, food and beverage, travel, and personal and family wellness.
“The store will be different than the competition,” van Raemdonck assured. “We are approaching it as innovative experiential retail with experiences and services that elevate the attraction for luxury customers and complements what we have [accomplished] digitally with customers across the country.” One third of Neiman’s $4.9 billion in annual sales is generated online.
Among the store’s features, van Raemdonck cited “Neiman Marcus Live,” a 1,000-square-foot pavilion to host fashion shows, book signings and talks, “really anything that is an experience revolving around luxury where consumers engage with us.”
He mentioned a new concept called Cooks & Merchants for epicure, with an IrvingFarm New York and City Bakery for grab and go and cafe dining, and a demo kitchen with tastings and mixology classes scheduled. “In the past, you would have thought of putting the kitchen far deeper into the store. We think experience happens everywhere,” van Raemdonck noted.
There’s also a Lucchese cowboy boot shop “as a nod to our heritage,” a New York City-themed shop with New York-logoed T-shirts, ceramics, glassware, handbags and hats, and a Resurrection vintage shop that “speaks to trends and sustainability and a propensity by fashion shoppers to mix and match,” van Raemdonck said.
“There are a lot of exclusives developed for the opening, from the vintage presentation to Lucchese boots to the special product curated for New Yorkers and some brands like Loewe. We have the first real [in-store] shop with them.”
Among other distinguishing features of Neiman’s in Hudson Yards:
• Three food destinations: Bar Stanley, the Zodiac Room and the café in Cooks & Merchants. Other Neiman’s stores have one or two food spots.
• High-tech fitting rooms with interactive touch screens to get associates for help in selecting styles and sizes; lighting that can vary the mood, and mobile checkouts.
• A women’s personal shopping suite decorated like a luxury apartment.
• The Digital Styling Lounge where customers can meet with digital stylists. Heretofore, the digital stylists worked with customers online only.
• The LightStim anti-inflamatory, cell rejuvenating LED bed. You can book a 40-minute session or buy the bed for $65,000.
• The BLVD beauty salon for DreamDry blowouts, Valley manicures and nail art, Pucker eyelash extensions and Spruce & Bond brow shaping, tinting, chemical peeling and hair removal.
• Atelier Notify for customizing clothes with embellishments, embroidery and monogramming; the Santana cobbler for leather repairs on shoes and bags, and Satya Twena custom hats.
• Rockbot audio services so customers can modify the store’s music playlist like a digital jukebox.
“Obviously this is a testing ground,” van Raemdonck said. “We are determined to innovate. We know customers want new experiences that are meaningful to them. A year from now, this store will be different,” with the space amplifying whatever works and moving away from what doesn’t work.
Van Raemdonck wouldn’t disclose the company’s volume projection for the store. The retailer could use a big win, though, as efforts to restructure its $4.5 billion debt burden progress. Neiman’s has shown better trends in sales in recent seasons, but is yet to report results for the holiday season.
“We have a goal internally and we’re very, very driven to achieve and exceed our goal” for the store, the ceo said. “But it’s most important to look at this store as a learning ground where we’re trying things never done before. A learning agenda is the big part. I’m really looking at it as theater of wonderful products and experiences where there’s a lot of interaction.”
According to the developer of Hudson Yards, The Related Cos., Neiman’s signed a long-term lease with built-in protections, like discounted rents for the first few years; large, unobstructed floor plates for each of its three levels, and multiple means of access.
With Neiman’s housed on levels five, six and seven of the shopping center, it was very important to have special accommodations to encourage consumers to ascend to the upper shopping levels and to offset the risk. It’s the first time Neiman’s main floor won’t be on the ground level of a center, or shopping street. Neiman’s shares levels six and seven with upscale restaurants but no other retailers. Level five includes Neiman’s and other stores and restaurants.
“How did I get Neiman’s to agree to go to the top — we literally designed a project to make sure the top penthouse levels were the most appealing,” Ken Himmel, president and ceo of Related Urban, previously told WWD. “For a department store, that means very large floor plates, and very high floor-to-ceiling heights with no obstructions or impediments like structural columns and elevator banks. What happens when you go into the base of one of these other mixed-use buildings is you are completely overpowered by columns and elevator shafts. You don’t get a great floor plate. Because the plates here are as big as they are, the circulation will be tremendous, and we are able to set the building back, actually move the floor plate and create a street on the fifth level of the project. That’s never been done by anyone in the world. When you arrive on level five, it will be like you are on the ground floor of a project,” providing a grander, spacious entrance to Neiman’s.
The retailer also had to work out a longstanding agreement with the Goodman family, the original owner of Bergdorf Goodman, that barred Neiman’s from opening a store in Manhattan that could potentially compete with Bergdorf’s. A financial agreement was reached releasing Neiman’s from the restriction.
On those larger floor plates, there are fewer of the “hard” designer shops that typically saturate Neiman’s selling floors.
“What you see is a very fluid environment that reflects how consumers like to experience luxury and browse easily from one [label] to the next and mix and match,” said van Raemdonck. “We do have some branded shops specifically in women’s accessories,” including Louis Vuitton and Chanel. There are also a handful of men’s hard shops including Brioni, Moncler, Brunello Cucinelli, Ermenegildo Zegna and Tom Ford.
“For the rest of the store, it’s much more open and fluid and always interspersed with experiences, content, nonproducts,” said van Raemdonck. “Beauty is an open space versus counters so customers will be able to interact with beauty associates and products. There’s a whole, much bigger host of beauty services including a wellness area and brow bar.”
In another departure, “We brought shoes to the center of the floor since we believe that’s something we do extremely well with. It makes a lot of sense there. We have unique connections with shoe brands.” The shoes are ringed by handbag vendor shops.
Retailers prefer to be on the ground floor, as opposed to upper floors. “We don’t see this as a challenge,” said van Raemdonck. “There’s direct access on the ground,” via three Neiman’s express elevators on Tenth Avenue where there’s a concierge directing people to any area of the store. There are also two main entrances on five. Access to Neiman’s on six and seven is from inside the store, as well as by the elevators.
Neiman’s will be closely monitoring where the store draws customers from, as some industry experts have questioned whether it will attract shoppers from Manhattan’s East Side, where there is Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. “New Yorkers are always curious about finding new areas and things to do. We do think we will attract people from everywhere,” van Raemdonck said.
Bergdorf’s, a division of NMG, attracts people from all over the country and abroad, he added. “We do believe a lot of our customers coming to New York will want to experience a new Neiman Marcus store of the future. We will see.”
Whether Neiman’s siphons sales from Bergdorf’s will also be examined. “We don’t see [Bergdorf’s] as competition,” the ceo said. “We are very mindful as a group that we continue to step up and continue to differentiate what we offer. We have a lot of ancillary services — our digital stylists, a concierge, same-day delivery in the city. So we offer really a very strong luxury experience that’s complimentary.
“There is a lot of competition in New York. Competition is a good thing. It forces you do what’s best for the customer. We offer more differentiation, more experience.”
The Neiman’s store took three and a half years to design and build, according to Janson Goldstein, the store architects on the project, along with Related, Elkus Manfredi and Avro|Ko. It was originally planned at 220,000 square feet but eventually downsized to 188,000, sparking speculation that sale projections for the store had been revised. However, officials told WWD that there was no reduction in the selling space and that 30,000 square feet of space was taken out of back office operations and storage that was made more efficient, thereby saving some operating costs.
At 188,000 square feet, it’s a still a huge store with plenty of merchandise, and plenty of architectural distinctions that begin on Tenth Avenue, where Neiman’s has a 1,200-square-foot lobby as well as fashion windows, signage, a concierge and three express elevators whisking shoppers to any of the store’s three shopping floors.
Neiman’s, however, considers its fifth floor entrance, on the west side of the shopping center, as its main one, and appropriately so, given that it’s 156 feet, or about three-quarters of a city block, wide. It faces the dramatic Thomas Heatherwick interactive sculpture, The Vessel, that dominates much of the outdoor public space of Hudson Yards. A decorative aluminum veil atop the fifth-floor facade further defines the entrance and creates a kinetic lighting effect that changes depending on the time of day and the weather conditions.
Flanking the entrance are the Chanel and Louis Vuitton handbag shops, and just beyond are women’s shoes, which are ringed by designer handbag shops for brands including Valentino, Celine and Balenciaga. Further in, the beauty department is defined by its open sell environment, new for Neiman’s, and a white marble floor.
In the center of the floor is a 1,800-square-foot atrium with the escalators and vistas across the selling floors. Atriums are de rigueur at Neiman’s, though the one at Hudson Yards is its biggest and most elegant, accented by columns in the Italian stone.
“We started with this idea of the raw and refined — taking the Neiman’s DNA and marrying it with the neighborhood and its industrial history,” explained Mark Janson, partner in Janson Goldstein. “As we developed the design, it became very refined, but it was a point of departure that inspired our palette for the store.” Matte-finished Italian Breccia stonework appears at all the major touch points such as the atrium, by the stairs and by the facades.
Throughout the store are 305 works of art from such artists as Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein, sketches by Halston, photographs by Roxanne Lowit, and pieces originally curated by the late legendary Stanley Marcus for the Neiman Marcus Collection, including an Alexander Calder mobile hanging above a staircase with a southern exposure and view all the way to the Statue of Liberty. In parts of the store, walls were created as focal points contemplating the artwork.
Ethereal glass screens separate the designer brands, an alternative to shops, though first floor designer handbags and some men’s wear are housed in shops.
The floors range from 55,000 to 70,000 square feet, so they’re close in size, with the sixth being the largest.
Noting its neutral, grayish palette, “The tone is consistent throughout the store,” to allow the merchandise to stand out, observed Steven Scuro, partner in Jansen Goldstein.
“The challenge is always to do something that represents the brand and matches the palette with the point of view,” added Janson. “Movement through space is always key, so there is a natural, intuitive circulation and ease of movement and long sight lines. The large atrium serves as a central wayfinding space. That’s key. It grounds you so when you come in you can clearly see where you have to go to get what you want. Other department stores, whether it’s like Macy’s or Barneys, don’t have this.
“This store has got the Neiman’s DNA, but it’s different from other Neiman’s stores.”