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NEW YORK As a focal point of Manhattan’s burgeoning Seaport District, 10 Corso Como, opening Friday, embodies the retail aspirations of developer Howard Hughes Corp. for the 300-year-old neighborhood reimagined as a hub for fashion, food, entertainment and culture.

Founded 28 years ago in Milan by Carla Sozzani, 10 Corso Como’s inaugural 28,000-square-foot U.S. store represents the breadth of her imagination and longtime collaboration with Kris Ruhs, the artist responsible for the flagship’s charmingly edgy graphics that appear on nearly every surface, including hundreds of ceiling lights, a glass wall with blue circles the color of the sea, in deference to the location, and a decorative backlit panel of wall art with messages written in 10 Corso Como icons such as: [heart] to [eye] u.

The lifestyle concept store offers fashion, design, books, electronics, music and art, with prices ranging from affordable to not so much. A restaurant with outdoor seating beckons with the aromas of classic Italian food.

But anchoring the project may be a heavy lift for 10 Corso Como considering the Seaport District is arriving late to the downtown retail scene. Brookfield Place‘s 300,000 square feet of retail space bowed in 2015, while Westfield World Trade Center‘s 365,000-square-foot complex opened in 2016. While 10 Corso Como is virtually unknown outside fashion and art circles, the most difficult aspect for the project has been the perception that it’s hard to reach via public transportation. Brookfield and Westfield have unique challenges of their own that have resulted in mixed performances at each.

That’s not something we believe is a major obstacle,” said Howard Hughes chief executive officer David Weinreb, of mass transit upgrades such as the Fulton Street Transit Center, which serves 11 subway lines. “There’s been a clear shift in the city’s center of gravity. You can look as far west as Hudson Yards and south to Brookfield Place and over to the Seaport District on the east side, and then over to Brooklyn. We believe the majority of the people we see at the Seaport are locals and New Yorkers.”

Since revealing plans to rebuild 450,000 square feet at the Seaport, Howard Hughes has pumped $785 million into the project, which consists of 10 buildings spanning several city blocks. In June, the developer paid $180 million for a one-acre site at 250 Water Street. “We’re just in the very early planning stages,” Weinreb said of the property, adding, “We’re always looking for acquisitions.”

The Seaport will be populated by other smaller stores. A 1,000-square-foot SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker unit will open on Sept. 13, and a Roberto Cavalli pop-up boutique will bow later this year. “10 Corso Como is such a broad palate,” Weinreb said. “It’s the baseline, and from there we’ll do infill. Right now, we’re activating things that are down the fairway in relation to our long-term vision. We always intended to wait until 10 Corso Como opened to make long-term commitments.”

Days before the flagship’s opening, Sozzani was an island of calm as all around her employees unpacked boxes, cleaned display cases and ripped protective plastic off the cash wraps. “I’m doing this on license terms,” Sozzani said of her arrangement with Howard Hughes. “They’re investors and they own the building. It’s a partnership. But the risk is not just money. I put 28 years of my life and so much work into the brand. I hope it’s going to work.

“I fell in love with the historic building,” Sozzani added. “The store in Milano is on two floors. This is an amazing, large space on one floor so you can create a flow. Kris said, ‘Let’s build a promenade inside.’ The light is beautiful. It’s very nice to walk around outside and have a feeling of serenity when you’re not on holiday. The houses are lower, there are little shops and no cars, only pedestrians.”

Sozzani wasn’t looking to open a store in Manhattan. “David [Weinreb] came many times to Milan. Kris is from New York and he told me that artists had their studios at the Seaport. It convinced me to go and see,” said Sozzani, who is a rabid art fan. The fact that the Seaport District is still a work in progress doesn’t bother Sozzani, at least not now. “When I opened 10 Corso Como in Milano, the area was on the outskirts of the city and people thought I was crazy. It will take time for sure,” she admitted.

Weinreb, like Sozzani, is resolute in his opinions. “When we believe something is right, we continue to pursue it and find a way to make it work,” he said. “I spent time traveling in search of the most dynamic retail concepts. I knew there was a trend away from transactional retail toward experiential retail, 10 Corso Como was right for the Seaport. I reached out to Carla close to six years ago. She’d been pursued by many of the big players and had consistently said no. I continued to meet with her and over time we built a close friendship… she’s become a dear friend.”

With her heightened sensitivity, Sozzani seems to belong to another world. There are no fresh flowers at 10 Corso Como because Sozzani can’t bear the thought of ripping them out of the earth. “We never cut the flowers. They’re beautiful the way they’re meant to be. That’s why Kris made me these flowers,” she said, pointing to hundreds of blooms crafted by Ruhs. “Nature is such an important part of 10 Corso Como. We have a very large garden and terrace in Milano. Birds have been going there by themselves for years and live in the vines along the walls.”

Standing in the center of the store, Sozzani rose on her tiptoes and lifted her lithe frame while moving her arms up and down in graceful birdlike motions. Wearing black socks with sandals and her trademark long thin cord wrapped around her hair, the ends dangling loosely, she looked like a sprite; her mood seemed to be as light as her weight. Self-confidence, she said, “has come with the years, I’m 71. Every day is a lesson. I wouldn’t love to know everything. Where is the curiosity? Many times I feel like I’m young and just starting. Curiosity gives me energy. I like doing everything. Even if you put me in the restaurant cleaning the glasses, I’ll do it with pleasure. I never cared about having big houses, I only want to keep discovering things.”

That’s one reason why Sozzani supports young designers with portfolio reviews. “Brands today belong to somebody else,” she said, referring to large multilabel luxury firms. “My hope is that we encourage the younger generation, which really has something to say. I come from a generation when a designer with something to say suffered for his brand and wasn’t simply making trends. The brands [today] belong to someone else. It’s very hard for a young designer today. That’s why it’s important to help and encourage.”

“The New York retail marketplace is its own beast,” said Averyl Oates, managing director of 10 Corso Como. “Carla’s always felt that she brings something unique, despite the fact that multibrand retail concept has been interpreted by everyone from Colette [which closed in December] to Jeffrey New York to Dover Street Market. We can’t go into competition with department stores. We’re trying to think of what we can offer. The one thing 10 Corso Como is, is Italian.”

“We have a long list of very young and established designers,” Sozzani said, noting that Italian brands occupy a wall in the fashion area. The store carries designers including Azzedine Alaïa, Prada, Martin Margiela, Moncler Genius, Vetements, Comme des Garçons Play, Balenciaga, Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, Undercover, Gosha Rubchinskiy, A Plan Application and Rudi Gernreich, among others. Gucci, which Sozzani praised highly, is represented only by footwear.

“My idea when I opened was to have slow shopping. You have to enjoy the process of shopping and live the experience with all your senses,” Sozzani said. “Fast fashion is street fashion, jeans and sneakers and T-shirts. It’s practical. But I don’t think [streetwear] should take away the pleasure of real beauty, the pleasure of having an elaborate dress. It’s important to have your sneakers. They’re crazy expensive, which is the contradiction. They’ve become objects of desire — that’s fashion.”

Sozzani hopes to create longing with continuous sneaker drops from Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, Common Projects and Pony, and the New York exclusive of Reebok x Pryer Moss in October, as well as a partnership with Reign to carry its deadstock program, which includes drops. 10 Corso Como’s egalitarian view of fashion — and art, design, and music, for that matter — includes the retailer’s own collection of cloth shopping bags, sneakers, T-shirts and more. “It’s very accessible,” Sozzani said. “It’s a memory of a shopper’s visit here.”

“After we settle down, I’d like to collaborate with younger American designers and really go deeper. That will be the really enjoyable part,” said Sozzani, who has lined up exclusives for the launch, such as Maison Margiela’s Stereotype sneaker, $480, and oversize T-shirt with printed trenchcoat, $550; MM6’s oversize coated wool fringe sleeves, $235; Stella McCartney’s T-shirt, $345; Sies Marjan’s blue Pippa shearling Tigrado peacoat, $2,895; Prada’s yellow patent leather cartoon pump, $890; History by Dylan’s craft art vintage Chanel navy classic bag, $7,200, and Ferragamo Creations’ shoes, $750 to $3,300, and handbags for $1,490 to $16,000.

Italian design is represented by Fornasetti, Memphis, MMM Ligne 13 and Lorenzo Petrantoni. Queebo’s large bunny doubles as a seat, $800. Studio Job’s slightly creepy cat-shaped lamps have illuminated eyes and a gold heart-shaped on-off button in the butt. An installation of FLOS lighting features a chain-link composition running against the length of a wall, $54,630, and freestanding round, $18,720, and square, $24,360 versions. Dr. Sebagh, Cire Trudon, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Augustinus Bade, Coqui Coqui, Parco 1923, Liftlab, Vital Material, Baruti and Livrer Yokohama are among the beauty brands.

The area near the main entrance is devoted to books, new, limited edition and out-of-print. “The average eye would just glance around and say, ‘Why are they carrying books,'” Oates said. “Actually, the Milan gallery is listed among the best bookshops in the world. People ask what we are.…We’re constantly changing and activating limited editions and exclusives. We’re highly curated. An obvious one is that we’re a mix of art, design, cuisine and fashion. We’re a celebration of something that’s unique.”

“I’m so happy we can have a gallery here,” said Sozzani, who in 1990 launched Galleria Carla Sozzani in a vacant garage after a career in magazines, including as the longtime editor of Vogue Italia. “The gallery grew organically,” she recalled. “I said, ‘We need a little cafe,’ and I opened a cafe. Then, I was missing fashion, so I added designers, and then plants. It was a natural happening. I can have all of the elements here at the Seaport, and you can have the same experience.

“The restaurant is an important part of our fantasy,” Sozzani said. “It’s called 10 Corso Como Cafe, so there’s no pretension. It’s very good Italian food — fresh, fresh, fresh. Mediterranean is the cuisine of love. Italian food is called la cucina povera, the cuisine of the poor. We offer a few perfect dishes. My favorite is spaghetti number five with fresh tomatoes you cut with your fingers. You can’t use a knife. I love for food to be light. You want to eat with the eyes. You want to eat nature, today more than ever. I want to build a terrace and grow squash, basil and tomatoes here.”

Is it a coincidence that the Seaport is serving up several other Italian dining options such as Bellini, the restaurant at Mr. C Seaport, the luxury hotel from the Cipriani family of Harry’s in Venice fame, and Andrew Carmellini’s Italian chophouse. “Italian is one of the great foods of the world,” Weinreb said. “We’ve got seafood by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Korean barbecue from Momofuku’s David Chang and Helene Henderson’s Malibu Farms. As its only location in North America, 10 Corso Como illustrates our commitment to create a one-of-a-kind destination.”

Oates said a participatory mind-set and lack of hierarchy for getting work done contributed to the store’s uniqueness. “Everybody’s hands have been involved in painting and decorating ceramic pots with seashells. “I personally put in two weeks on a step ladder and installed 150 lights on the ceiling myself. Kris actively had people join in the artistic side of launching the store. It was 10 p.m. one night and we all sat down and laid the tiles for the sunken garden, and we loved it. The idea of the sunken garden is very exclusive,” Oates said, explaining that the space is designed for nothing other than enjoyment, there’s nothing to buy. “Carla clearly wanted to make the store appealing to a broad audience and working together on the sunken garden created a sense of camaraderie.” 

Sozzani felt those good vibes inside the store and outdoors. So positive was she about the location, she felt no need to do any reconnaissance feng shui. “It has a joyful atmosphere,” she said of the Seaport District. “The light is very nice. Plants and light, they love each other. It’s a destination, I hope. The water or the fishes are good luck.”

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