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Beauty Inc issue 05/20/2011

As someone who’s lucky enough to live just a few blocks from the South Beach Sephora, I usually don’t venture far for my beauty needs. But the opening of Sephora’s flagship at Aventura Mall piqued the reporter in me. I decided to make the schlep, as well as check in at a favorite haunt, Saks Fifth Avenue at Bal Harbour Shops.

This story first appeared in the May 20, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

I rarely visit Aventura Mall and you’ll soon understand why. Depending on the time of day, construction and general South Florida I-95 snafus, the drive there could take anywhere from 45 minutes to half my adult life. That a bus with an ad for Aventura, which have been showing up all over the place lately, rode tandem seemed like a good sign. Fast-forward risking life and limb to change lanes for the center’s narrow entrance off Biscayne Boulevard and three near accidents in the parking lot, and I had arrived, frazzled yet determined.

Having enough sense to go on a weekday and call ahead for the best point of entry to Sephora—the mall is ginormous—I was told the new store sits directly below the food court. Five Guys Burgers and Fries is NOT what I had in mind to begin my fragrance journey, so I tried not to breathe while making my way through an insanely diverse crowd of Jewish grandparents, every Latin American nationality and teenage boys with Stevie Wonder-length cornrows.

Oddly in the waft of fast food, the mall has situated a bath and beauty cluster around the escalators with The Body Shop, Kiehl’s, MAC and Crabtree & Evelyn. The abundance of natural light and contemporary art in front of Sephora put a much-needed skip in my step.

This 7,300-square-foot Sephora absolutely sings, from its black-and-white striped entrance to the slight neon “S.” The gleaming black and glass facade lends an almost temple of beauty quality.

Though skin care lies immediately to the right and cosmetics to the left, an overwhelming potpourri of a thousand scents hits customers first. Afraid my sensitive nose would give out on me, I headed straight to the huge fragrance section in the rear, easily spotted with its largescale, colored photos of floating perfume bottles.

This being my first foray into shopping for fragrances at any Sephora, I was surprised by the democratic display sans the usual marketing tricks to steer consumers. Aside from special displays for Chanel, Chloé and Dior’s J’adore, brands were meticulously arranged alphabetically without any trash or a speck of dust to be found.

While Lily Allen and Eighties pop piped from the speakers, I perused the selection and waited for the section’s salesman to finish with another customer. He soon greeted me, with as neat an appearance (including not a single hair out of place) as his wares. I said I’d like to pick out a Mother’s Day gift that wasn’t too overpowering—I’m still scarred from the Giorgio days—or adolescent. After asking me a few questions about my mom’s tastes, such as her favorite flowers, he got to work.

Regarding his first suggestion, Very Hollywood by Michael Kors, he said its gardenia and powdery combination reminded people of their grandmother but in a sophisticated, retro way. The pretty bottle makes a sweet gesture in itself, and I could imagine it sitting in my mom’s pink bathroom in the Florida Keys. He sprayed and politely handed me more scent strips for Gucci’s Flora, Chloé’s Love and Rose and Marc Jacobs’ Lola.

Passing me a coffee canister to clear my palate, he chattered about Sephora in general, such as new items, bestsellers and this store’s size compared with other U.S. locations and its annual sales. When I checked with corporate, he wasn’t too far off. He may be deservingly due for a promotion, because after offering me a sample of my choice, he threw in a $250 contest card and asked me to fill in his name in the online survey.

I never felt rushed, as I have so many times at other retailers. When I said I didn’t plan to buy that day, not even the faintest look of disdain crossed his face. In a region famous for poor service, it was a refreshing attitude, one that would even make me consider braving “Aventorture,” as locals call it, again.

By now you’ve probably guessed that I’m not a mall rat, which is why the low-key, intimate Bal Harbour Shops is the only center I’d dare go near on a Saturday. Parking in the fairly full garage, I looked forward to window shopping.

Considering so many stores sparkle with the latest decor and exquisite merchandising—100% Capri, Lanvin, Oscar de la Renta, to name a few—I hope Saks Fifth Avenue follows suit with a gorgeous makeover like its sister store at The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The latter’s spacious departments, natural light and clean, contemporary decor always put me in the mood to shop.

Back at Bal Harbour, the entry of Pompeian tiny mosaic tiles presents a touch of flair amongst neutral cherry wood cabinetry and travertine floors. Music from the adjacent shoe department trickled into the quieter beauty section, and the high ratio of salespeople to customers guaranteed quick attention to anyone meandering through the compact space.

The majority of fragrances sit in the far right section of the floor. More scents are interspersed within each brand’s cosmetics display, so it’s a welcomed task for a pro shopper who loves the thrill of the hunt. Good thing Bal Harbour caters to Brazilians who are just that.

Since promotions for Bond No.9 New York’s Madison Square Park, new and exclusive to Saks according to the store’s advertising, graced the windows and escalator landing, I figured it would be a good start. The pleasantly upbeat salesman spritzed me from a neon pink bottle and demonstrated how the flacon’s bright green rose bracelet decoration transforms into a brooch. Having embarrassingly admitted my last new fragrance was Chance, he got really into my perfume- Luddite situation with four additional scents including side notes like, “This one won a FiFi award last year.”

He worked in unison with a saleswoman who also wasn’t pushy. She turned me onto Martin Margiela’s Untitled, also new and exclusive to Saks, and a tulleembellished bottle of Jeanne Lanvin.

At By Kilian’s glossy booth as boudoir, yet another warm saleswoman—as I mentioned, there were a lot!—spoke with a friend’s honesty. “Men prefer their women to smell sweet. Tell your mom to buy you a bottle of Kilian for your birthday since it’s $225, and then you buy the Laura Mercier for $50.”

She explained the founder’s pedigree and the difference between his scents versus others, adding that real perfume, though expensive, lasts longer, so it’s a wiser investment. I liked, too, how she pinpointed her top pick from each brand. Unfortunately, we never made it to Jo Malone because I was drenched in fragrance by then, and my nose couldn’t go on no matter how many coffee beans I sniffed.

It’s amazing how a single good salesperson can make all the difference, and I had three in just one trip. No wonder this department is a bustling destination for the international jet set.

Aventura Mall

Pristinely maintained, Sephora’s new South Florida fl agship in the bustling Aventura mall is a beauty lover’s paradise.

Saks Fifth Avenue
Bal Harbour Shops

Located in luxe Bal Harbour, Saks’ exclusive brand lineup and stellar service has timeless appeal.

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