The seven-level, 320,000-square-foot women’s flagship, set to open Thursday, fits the mold with those Nordstrom definers — the open, flexible floor plan; extended sight lines; breadth of merchandise — from Topshop to Saint Laurent, and the vigilant service.
Yet the experience is elevated, figuratively and literally, and it all begins from the street with the dramatic, undulating glass facade, rising five stories high and 150 feet across, beckoning those outside to peer inside. At the forefront, fashion mannequins are theatrically suspended from the ceiling, high above the two atriums flanking the main entrance and leading to the lower levels.
The theater continues with a Christian Louboutin space housing an exclusive capsule collection of handbags, footwear and travel accessories. It’s center stage on the main floor for the opening weeks.
There’s also a graffitied and Thomas Burberry TB-monogrammed Burberry format with exclusives and runway pieces; a “Nordstrom x Nike” shop with limited-edition Nike products intermixed with Megbabe beauty products, Susan Alexandra fashion and Theragun massage tools, among other brands for a lifestyle array, and an Everlane shop presented in the Pop-In @ Nordstrom space that changes its merchandise theme monthly and keeps it innovative.
The flagship, as expected, has multiple areas for designer and contemporary footwear — a Nordstrom forte — as well as for women’s apparel, handbags and accessories. Beauty is on the main level, unlike some competitors around town which have broken tradition by situating the category on the lower or second floors. For Nordstrom, beauty is growing in volume, so the intent is to maximize exposure.
[This is the third in a series of articles about the Nordstrom women’s flagship opening in Manhattan.]
Nordstrom 57th Street — the Seattle-based retailer’s first New York City department store — does raise the bar on amenities and service. There are seven food and beverage options, and return and pickup areas and charging kiosks are sprinkled throughout, obvious to the eye.
There are designer shops but they’re not “hard” shops, enabling the Nordstrom team to readily enlarge or shrink brand presentations based on selling trends. Some rugs anchor things down but they’re movable, as are other shop components.
“Fluid” is the feeling on 57th Street, married with the Nordstrom sense of restraint. It’s not logo-ed out. Signage identifying brands and designers is discreet.
Except the new flagship is brighter, and as Nordstrom executives like to say, “connected and immersive.”
WATCH: Inside Nordstrom’s New NYC Flagship
“We had this vision of a modern flagship, an urban store that would really be connected to the city and the energy of the city and not isolated from it. It’s worked out that way,” Erik Nordstrom, copresident of Nordstrom Inc., told WWD during an interview Friday.
“You feel a connection to the store from the outside. The architecture of the place, the floor-to-ceiling heights, the natural light — you get it before you enter.”
Compared to other Nordstrom sites, “I think it is fairly similar, yet with a significant part that is different and interesting,” Nordstrom observed. “Generally, it is an open floor plan, and from the escalator it’s fairly easy to get your bearings. But there are surprising moments, particularly our Louboutin, Nike and Burberry concepts. It’s a mix of being familiar, open and easy to navigate, and surprising discoveries.”
“We are not building out of brick-and-mortar. We are building out of glass and light,” said Dawn Clark, Nordstrom’s senior vice president for architecture, store design and construction, explaining the blueprint. “The facade is our opportunity to connect to the city. It’s our exterior expression. I was not going to build walls.”
Clark came up with the idea of a glass facade, while the undulating wave design was created by James Carpenter, of the cross-disciplinary design firm bearing his name, who is an expert in glass and the use of natural light. The facade captures the sunlight in ways flat glass wouldn’t, and catches the eye from a distance. The undulations are composed irregularly, and designed for people to step right up to and look outside to the streets, to feel the energy, for that urban “connection.” One, two or three people can fit into a wave depending on its amplitude.
“These are places to walk into and see the streets outside but they are also places to situate beautiful mannequins with gowns that you can see from the street,” noted Clark. The spaces created by the undulations “push the presentations out, proudly. This isn’t just a beautiful, eye-catching expression on the exterior. It’s an experience.”
To construct the facade, hundreds of 10-to-20-foot panes of glass were heated in huge ovens in Europe to create the curvatures. The facade is in a finished state on the 57th Street side of the flagship and is being replicated on the 58th Street side.
“Fundamentally, our design focus was getting the right level of energy by having daylight entering the store,” Clark explained. “That offers a dynamic nature which is constantly changing depending on the climate, mood and time of day. The store shifts dramatically, energize-wise, and that is a gift we don’t have to produce for ourselves, though we have certainly done other things, like installing our lighting effects that are more controllable,” Clark said, citing the LED lighting at the base of the windows on each level. They help change the tone and mood of the store, inside and outside, at different hours.
Within the wide glass front, there aren’t any boxy windows like those at other department stores that block what’s inside. Instead, with the “transparency” of the Nordstrom flagship design, “the whole store becomes a window,” Clark said.
There were challenges constructing Nordstrom 57th Street. Four buildings had to be woven together, requiring pass-throughs to be created. Transitions seem seamless, lacking the disjointed feeling one sometimes gets in other retail flagships composed of different buildings cobbled together. In addition, the landmarked limestone facades along Broadway were restored by Nordstrom. The store forms the base of what will be the world’s tallest luxury condo, Central Park Tower, which will have 197 units, requiring Nordstrom to work with the developer on safety features, vertical transportation, mechanicals, heating, air conditioning, etc.
Just across Broadway from the new women’s flagship is Nordstrom’s men’s store, opened in spring 2018. A lot of cross-shopping is expected, given that over 50 percent of the shoppers at the men’s store are female, according to Nordstrom.
Inside the women’s flagship, the contemporary artwork and a range of artistic fixtures add an air of sophistication and variety and provide moments to pause and notice, without obscuring the fashion. Some of the fixtures are custom-crafted, such as the handful of small tables with numerous centipede-like iron legs, made for Nordstrom by an iron-working artisan.
There are also geometric wood and metal fixtures that frame the space around outfits. “There’s a broader philosophy to these,” said Clark. “It heros something, defines the space around it and doesn’t block the view or the light…I have always said to my team, ‘dematerialize.’ A lot of store design is just overdesigned. Someone said less is more. It’s still true. We worked with a lot of designers on this project and a lot of the time it was ‘pull that back, pull that back. Do one less. There are too many things happening.'”
Chainmail, an industrial material used in fashion, gently delineates many of the designer accessory and designer ready-to-wear shops on levels two and three. It’s see-through and there’s no feeling of barriers or restricted movement, creating an ease of shopping.
Overall, it’s a floor plan without any main or secondary aisles, or that “racetrack” footprint that mark many other department stores.
Nordstrom, Clark added, adheres to three key store design principles. “First, there has to be a sense of aliveness and energy. For 57th Street, we tuned it up.” With older stores, “There was kind of an elegant feeling. We wanted to energize more” on 57th Street. The intent was to “peel the box back,” she said.
“It’s also about being hyper-flexible, changeable, creating a seamless environment that we could constantly evolve to respond to the customer and the changes in the business. Everything happening in the store is very dynamic. The stores have been too specific.”
The third strategy, Clark said, was to convey “the warmth of a service culture, with an environment that’s warm, soft, textural and comfortable so it’s embracing and inviting to everyone. It’s about removal of barriers. There are no hard walls. No single entries. You can flow through and meander into the next shop. There is not so much a sense of exclusivity.
“These are very subtle things, but psychologically they are actually quite big things in the way a person decides to explore” through the store, she said.
Asked how technology is integrated into the store, Clark answered: “We say we are building an ecosystem for this seamless kind of service that is both here in the store but also virtual. It’s not like the old days where you went to customer service in a backroom and waited in a line like you were in a bank. We have devoted a fair amount of space for service, particularly on the ground floor, right in the middle where there is a return area. But you can return at any checkout point with any employee, and we have special areas for tailoring and alterations.”
No matter where one is in the store, executives say there will be great cell reception and Wi-Fi. Also, inside the fitting rooms, there’s the ability to communicate with salespeople and get what a shopper needs by using technology.
“We’re not thinking about a bunch of self-service digital screens. It’s more how do we enable services and tools for our employees to help our customers,” said Clark.
“First and foremost, our service starts with our people,” said Erik Nordstrom.
The opening of a Manhattan flagship is a seminal event for the $15.5 billion, Seattle-based Nordstrom, after decades of first rejecting the notion of operating in the city and dealing with all its hassles and high costs, then switching gears and taking decades more to find the right site and plan and build it. Nordstrom’s Manhattan project is the company’s most expensive to day, said to be well over the initial $500 million reported. It’s also Nordstrom’s second-largest location after the Seattle flagship, and not surprisingly, New York is expected to be the retailer’s highest volume store.
However, as the Nordstrom family sees it, the flagship is one piece, albeit the most critical one, in the company’s emerging market strategy that began in Los Angeles two years ago and is now taking shape in New York City.
“We don’t view it as opening one building, or four walls,” said Nordstrom. “It’s really about the market of Manhattan, how we can service customers, and really creating a synergy for how we move merchandise around [from location to location] and have it available the next day to customers. We can deliver to their home or they can pick it up at any of our locations in the market.”
The retailer’s market strategy entails the opening of Nordstrom Local service hubs. Nordstrom Local, as a new concept, is largely unfamiliar to consumers but since two of them were unveiled recently in Manhattan, Nordstrom said the concept is catching on. They’re not mini-versions of the company’s stores and there’s no merchandise displayed, aside from a handful of items in the back and by a touch-screen for online shopping, or what the firm’s stylists have gathered to show clients coming in. The Nordstrom Locals provide pick ups, returns, alterations, stylists and other services, and strive to get the retailer closer to customers, get them more engaged, provide faster deliveries, and smoother shopping experiences, channel to channel.
In New York, the Nordstrom flagship expects to capture business primarily from West Side residents, tourists, and commuters from the tri-state area, and will be buttressed by the company’s other physical locations — the two Nordstrom Locals, the Trunk Club clubhouse site, the two Rack off-price stores and the Nordstrom men’s store, so customers can have choices on how and where to pick up or return orders and receive deliveries and alterations. Nordstrom has a van that moves goods.
“We’ve learned a lot from our market approach that we have been piloting in Los Angeles for the last two years. We believe that it is our model moving forward,” said Erik Nordstrom. “The two main parts of it, in short, are engagement with services and channels, be it digital or physical channels or alterations, order pickups, styling, and being able to bring all of these service capabilities to the consumer, really on their terms.
“The second part is leveraging inventory, to provide customers with a bigger selection, quicker delivery and at a lower cost to us,” he added.
“The market strategy has been working well for us in Los Angeles,” Nordstrom said. “We are looking to scale that market approach” around the country. Asked what city has been designed for the next market strategy implementation, Nordstrom politely responded, “We haven’t yet revealed our scaling schedule.” Larger markets, like Miami and Chicago, would be logical next steps.
For now, though, all eyes are on Nordstrom’s Manhattan flagship. Anticipation is rising with just three days left before the ribbon-cutting. It will be preceded by media tours, an investor conference, and a big party Tuesday inside the store. On Saturday, there will be a block party, along Broadway between 58th and 57th Streets, in a sense celebrating both the men’s and women’s stores, that market strategy.
“This is a big one for sure,‘“ said Nordstrom, in his understated way. “It’s a big week for the company and the family and a lot of other people.” And for the city as well.
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