Saks Fifth Avenue on Monday reached a milestone: finishing the last part of the renovation of the 53,000-square-foot main floor. If the unveiling seemed somewhat anticlimactic barring any pomp and circumstance, consumers nonetheless streamed in through the 646,000-square-foot flagship’s 49th Street and 50th Street doors or Fifth Avenue entrances and walked east to the new section.
Powerhouse luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Balenciaga, Prada and Chanel, whose shop-in-shop represents the Parisian house’s largest handbag space at a multilabel North American retailer, in February planted stakes near the high-traffic Fifth Avenue side of the store — the better for tourists to see all the leather and logos.
The Saks flagship carries a more robust offering than before, and nearly every brand, including Chanel, has created exclusive styles or colors for the retailer.
What the back portion of the main floor lacks in household named luxury brands, it makes up for with a sense of discovery and new resources, including emerging brands; the first Rimowa concept shop at a North American multibrand retailer, and an emphasis on personalization with Royce New York, among others.
And there’s strength in numbers. Saks now offers nearly 60 handbag resources across the entire main floor, with 31 in the newly opened portion.
The handbag category is more competitive than ever, with luxury department stores battling each other for exclusives, the fast-growing segment is estimated to have a the year-over-year growth rate of 6 percent, and incremental growth of $25.01 billion projected from 2018 through 2023, according to Technavio.
Saks felt it had an opportunity to support emerging talents and help bump their businesses to the next level, while differentiating its main floor. While luxury resale e-commerce sites are still salivating over Hermès’ Birkin and Kelly bags, consumers — especially Millennials — are less obsessed with status labels and eschew splashy logos.
In recent 2019 luxury resale report, The RealReal said consumers are looking for the next big brand. It could be Bottega Veneta or one of the most-searched emerging brands, Staud, which is up 850 percent year-over-year. Saks stocks both brands. Staud’s Bissett saddle lizard-embossed bag retails there for $395.
Little Liffner, Gu_De, Marzook, DeMellier, Nita Suri and other up-and-coming brands sit on fixtures made from a materials that look like abstract-shaped blocks. The blocks are arranged in a circular Stonehenge formation or that of a Greek open-air theater under a huge inverted six-tier chandelier with hundreds of clear round glass lights. Saks said it’s been hearing that travel is increasingly important, noting that Rimowa is offering stickers exclusive to Saks while Royce New York provides complementary engraving services for leather goods including passport holders.
Six new shops-in-shop are dedicated to Givenchy, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Proenza Schouler, Alaïa and Burberry soft accessories such as scarves. In the center of these outposts, a handful of styles by Anya Hindmarch are perched on angular-shaped blocks. Asked why the limited product by the British designer, the retailer said the space and display pieces are flexible so Saks can react quickly to customer preferences.
An evening bag area features Judith Leiber, Edie Parker, Marzook, Jeffrey Levinson, Rosantica and Jimmy Choo.
Soft accessories — hats, scarves, gloves and belts, in short, anything that helps a woman complete her outfit or adds a special touch — has its own home, too. It’s a big improvement over the pre-renovation set up where products were housed in grab-bag fashion in fixtures set up like the lanes of a toll booth.
If the former soft accessories cluster represents an old-fashioned approach, the entire first-floor renovation, governed by the mantra of Saks Fifth Avenue president Marc Metrick: that personalization and ease of shopping is the new luxury. The main floor, with its modern OMA/Rem Koolhaas-designed dichroic glass escalator leading to the beauty floor, set the tone for the most recent redo of the Gensler-designed flagship with the configuration of escalators creating a diamond-shaped atrium connecting the main floor with beauty and jewelry on the second floor.
Custom Italian terrazzo flooring embedded with shimmering shards of rainbow-colored light is the connective tissue between the front and back of the main floor. The latter is dotted with transparent and opaque high-design fixturing and folded metal origami-inspired tables and glass fixtures built with two-way mirrors.
The breadth of the assortment ranges from Cult Gaia, $198, to Boyy, $1,050, to Givenchy, $6,990.
Technavio said the handbag market is seeing strong demand for luxury styles made from eco-friendly materials such as organic leather products. Saks is answering that need with Mireia Llusia-Lindh’s DeMellier, which has a charity component. For every handbag purchased, London-based DeMellier funds a set of life-saving vaccines and treatments for children in need. Handbags made in the south of Spain by local artisans from Italian and Spanish materials, are surprisingly well-priced. For example, a burgundy croc-effect calf leather Oslo bag with pale gold lock, logo and hardware is $480.
Customer service is also of the highest importance and Saks believes its staff of multilingual-style advisers with cross-brand knowledge will go a long way toward building loyalty and upselling.