MAMMA MIA! IT’S A SHOP

Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Take the disco Seventies sounds of Abba, set them to a story about a wedding on an exotic Greek isle, and what do you have? “Mamma Mia!” A formula for a Broadway hit, and a hook for another Bloomingdale’s trend shop.
On Monday, Bloomingdale’s will officially open “Mamma Mia” shops at its 59th Street flagship; Century City, Calif., and Aventura, Fla., locations. It’s a special occasion to spotlight a new fashion category. “We’ve come up with a look we call casual wedding,” said Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of fashion direction. That translates into a young, sexy assortment of dressy peasant tops, low-cut hip hugging bell-bottom jeans, faded jeans, cropped tops, strapless dresses, mini-skirts, kilts, bright Moroccan-style shirts, embroidery and holiday fabrics such as lace, georgette and chiffon. That’s for the wedding guests. For the marrying couple, Bloomingdale’s also has tuxedo separates and off-the-shoulder gowns.
While it’s risky tying shops and advertising to films or shows that could go either way on the hit-or-dud meter, Bloomingdale’s does it faster and more frequently than just about any retailer. A “Rent” shop lasted for three seasons selling mini-skirts, vinyl skirts and T-shirts. The “Evita” shop’s Fifties-inspired stylings also played well as did looks from “Out of Africa,” “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Annie Hall.” However, the shop inspired by the 1999 musical “Saturday Night Fever” took the Travolta look too seriously. While the “Mamma Mia” shops also draw inspiration from the Seventies, Ruttenstein assured, “They’re about modern fashion and what we saw coming down the runways and showrooms for the spring collections, but for immediate delivery.”
To get those spring looks in fast for the fall-holiday season, Bloomingdale’s worked closely with several vendors and designers [often obtaining exclusive items in the process] including Tahari, Theory, ABS, Jessica McClintock, Shoshana, Skinnie Minnie, Necessary Objects, and a new jeans resource called Joie. “We told them to pretend they were invited to a reception on a Greek isle and imagine what would they be wearing.” Thankfully, Bloomingdale’s instructions also specified that vendors interpret — not copy — those over-the-top gold studded Dancing Queen costumes worn in the show.
“The inspiration might be the Seventies, but the clothes have to be advanced to sell,” Ruttenstein emphasized.
At the core of the offerings is the peasant top-narrow jeans outfit, which has become, as Ruttenstein said, “the uniform of young people” at downtown clubs in New York, London, Milan, and the Hamptons. It’s a look that can even work at a wedding, provided the reception is not at The Plaza. “Well, the wedding could be South Beach or St. Barth’s — not just a mythical Greek isle,” Ruttenstein added. “It could be at any resort.” As much as the “Mamma Mia” shop captures Ruttenstein’s vision of casual wedding attire, it also captures the spirit of holiday gift-giving and the mood of downtown nightlife.
The musical “Mamma Mia” weaves the Euro music and lyrics of 22 Abba hits to create a storyline about a forty-something single mother and her more traditional daughter, who is about to get married on a Greek isle, but lacks someone to escort her down the aisle. She’s on the verge of discovering the identity of her father. The musical successfully toured in Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and London, and goes into previews here Friday at the Winter Garden Theater. Based on advance ticket sales, the show has a lot of promise — and Bloomingdale’s is banking on it — but there is some uncertainty, owing to the city’s severe drop in tourism since Sept. 11. This month, the store’s windows here will be devoted to the “Mamma Mia” promotion. “We are making the statement big in ads and windows,” Ruttenstein stated. The shop will be on the third floor of the flagship, right off the escalator.
It’s not expected to be as productive as the 500-square-foot “Moulin Rouge” shop last spring, which generated $250,000 in sales during its six-week run, and had studio power behind it. Working with 20th Century Fox, Bloomingdale’s got the movie’s star, Nicole Kidman, to appear at the store. Then an aggressive troupe of can-can dancers performed for a crowd in front of the flagship.
Bloomingdale’s hopes to pull in another big crowd next week, and given the current climate for business, it could certainly use one. For the shop opening, the cast of “Mamma Mia” is scheduled to visit and sign autographs, 10 days before the musical officially opens.
“When business gets tough, you have to create more excitement on the selling floor,” said Ruttenstein.

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