CHICAGO — The city’s Gold Coast neighborhood is bustling with activity — and luxury retailers are calling the shots.
With Dior and Versace planning to open on North Rush Street in 2016, Giorgio Armani and La Perla recently relocating to Oak Street from Michigan Avenue and buzz that Fendi has been quietly scouting locations on Oak Street, retailers from Prada and Gucci to Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. are sprucing up their stores and in some cases, like Tiffany, completing a down-to-the-studs renovation.
While Prada’s store updates should be completed by late October, Gucci’s renovated flagship at 900 N. Michigan Ave. involved adding a second floor to expand the selling space to more than 10,000 square feet in order to showcase the complete collection of men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, bags, shoes and accessories. Modeled after the newly redesigned store in Milan, the first phase of renovations at Gucci is finished and the total project is expected to wrap up by Nov. 15.
A spokesman for Louis Vuitton declined to comment on the Michigan Avenue store’s revamp, which is currently focused on the exterior of the Palmolive Building, the Chicago landmark Art Deco site where the store is located. However, one source said the store would commence a major interior renovation in 2016, doubling the size of the retail space.
In the Gold Coast these days, scaffolds are as common as designer stilettos.
“Everyone knows Dior and Versace are coming and they all want to look their best,” said Julianne Bryce, a stylist at George the Salon, which shares the same building as Vera Wang, located at the corner of Rush and Oak Streets.
Next to Michigan Avenue, or the “Magnificent Mile,” Gold Coast’s most coveted retail address is Oak Street and the streets surrounding Oak — Rush and Walton Streets, in particular, are gaining momentum. There are 59 retailers on Oak Street, the quarter-mile tree-lined stretch between Michigan Avenue and Rush Street that is home to stores like Barneys New York, Escada, Tom Ford, Dolce & Gabbana, Carolina Herrera, Hermès, Lanvin and Giorgio Armani.
Rents on Oak Street range from $300 to $475 a square foot, while street-level rents on Michigan Avenue average about $485 a square foot.
“Iconic luxury retailers like Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue and Louis Vuitton are an integral part of our footprint,” said John Chikow, president and chief executive officer of The Magnificent Mile Association, a 103-year-old organization whose mission is to promote the businesses within the Magnificent Mile District. “The lack of retail vacancies on Michigan Avenue has caused local boutiques and international labels to expand the borders of our shopping district but also to invest an unprecedented amount of capital in renovating and remodeling existing storefronts.”
Toni Palumbo, store director at Lanvin and president of the Oak Street Council, a nonprofit, membership-based organization focused on promoting the Oak Street Shopping District, has seen a lot of change in the neighborhood.
“I’ve been on the street for about six years,” Palumbo said. “There’s a lot going on. People are fixing their stores up and making them look better. It’s the best that it’s been in a long time and 2016 will be even better.”
The Oak Street Council covers marketing, landscaping, advertising and events for retailers, restaurants, hotels and salons on Oak Street and the Oak Street District, which includes Rush and Walton Streets and Michigan Avenue, between Oak and Walton Streets. In 2015, the council spent $10,000 more on landscaping and street maintenance to beautify the street and surrounding area.
“The council is as much about promoting the street as it is about beautification,” said Liz Kores, managing director of the Oak Street Council. “If you stroll down Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, it’s lovely. We’re different in that we’re an urban environment but we want the same feeling of intimacy.”
Giorgio Armani had no comment as to why the boutique returned to Oak Street, where it had been until 2000, but Suzy Biszantz, ceo of La Perla America, said moving to Oak Street from Michigan Avenue made sound business sense.
“La Perla’s retail strategy is to have a presence in the most important luxury shopping districts in the world, so Oak Street in Chicago was a logical fit,” Biszantz said. “I knew the relocation would position La Perla amongst other luxury European brands and would help in reaching our target customer base.”
In addition to Fendi, which was rumored to be looking at retail space at 110 E. Oak Street, there were rumblings that Stella McCartney was eyeing Gold Coast, but nothing recent. E-mails to Fendi and Stella McCartney seeking comment were not returned.
Tiffany completed its five-month-long Michigan Avenue flagship renovations just in time for its 50-year anniversary in Chicago in 2016.
Inspired by the Fifth Avenue flagship, the redesigned 10,100-square-foot store represents an increase of 1,400 square feet and contains a dedicated Tiffany Watch Salon — the first of its kind in the country — as well as five private sales salons. The modernized store features a lighter decor with white stone and marble-accented floors, walnut paneling, a hand-leafed Tiffany Magnolia chandelier situated over the central jewelry case and more spacious aisles to peruse the jewelry.
“It’s much more of a residential feeling and so much easier to browse,” said Cathy Elward, regional vice president at Tiffany & Co. “It’s always been an inviting environment, but now you may linger longer.”