Byline: Rose-Marie Turk

The current multimillion dollar expansion of South Coast Plaza has all the trappings of a retail field of dreams. For starters, there is the advertising campaign. For months, brochures, an international marketing blitz and construction barriers — ablaze with bold colors and exquisite photographs of flowers — have been heralding such enticements as “Our Secret Garden Revealed,” “A New South Coast Plaza” and “An Elegant Passage for Coast to Coast Shopping.”
Then there are the statistics. The prestigious mall, which is home to such upscale retailers as Gucci, Prada, Jil Sander, Cartier, Hermes, Fendi, Versace, Chanel, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, draws about 22 million visitors annually — more than Disneyland. It is surrounded by households with annual incomes over $75,000 and expects annual sales to reach $1 billion this year.
Figured into the sales forecast is the premise that by November, when 90 percent of the renovation is scheduled for completion, shoppers will encounter “the most dramatic transformation of South Coast Plaza in more than 30 years,” according to Anton Segerstrom, a partner in the family-owned enterprise.
“We have launched a number of firsts and we are in the process of continuing that,” Segerstrom said, noting the recent list includes the first West Coast stores for Chopard and Henry Cotton’s.
As for why now, he explained, “The robust economy in Orange Country was a very important lightning rod. A lot of retailers, like Chopard, look to the affluent customer base that we cater to, and they approach us about coming into this marketplace. And that really drives the expansion. The other aspect is that we’re always trying to bring in new experiences for our customers.”
Included in the mall’s dynamic is Sears, which has had an anchor location since 1967.
“It’s a welcome part of our mix. We’re not about price, we’re about quality across the board,” Segerstrom explained. “A man who buys a Cartier watch might also buy a set of Craftsman tools because he feels it’s the best that he can buy.”
Little by little since March, the transformation, which will cost in excess of $100 million, has been unfolding. Eventually, there will be 30 new retailers, among them Frette, Bruno Magli, Diesel, Manrico Cashmere, Roxy and Charles David . Other changes include the reconfiguration and expansion of such existing retailers as Louis Vuitton, Eddie Bauer, Boss Hugo Boss,The Limited, Macy’s and Robinsons-May.
An elaborate, bougainvillea-laden Bridge of Gardens, created by renowned landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson, will have an outdoor terrace restaurant and unify the mall’s main center with the former Crystal Court area, which is being converted into a home-furnishings haven, anchored by Crate & Barrel’s largest West Coast store and the prototype Macy’s Home Store.
“It’s one of those win-win situations,” said Jean Miller, regional vice president for Robinsons-May Orange County, which has been operating two similar stores at South Coast Plaza since the merger of Robinsons and May Co. in 1993.
In return for relinquishing its Crystal Court space to Crate & Barrel, the retailer gained more footage in the main part of the mall, going to 289,000 square feet from 238,000, which means, Miller said, “We can go after the merchandise categories we’ve been pretty low in, mostly men’s collections and women’s better sportswear. This allows us to do each department as it should be done, without the confusion. You can imagine the confusion for customers, finding two stores selling basically similar things.”
Along with new vendors, Miller said there will be a return of vendors like Chaus and Karen Kane, who were dropped for a lack of room. By November, when the remodeled store is complete, it will have “the fullest range of merchandise of any of the 55 Robinsons-May stores,” she explained, noting the selection will include such current top-performing categories as California-type beach resources, petites in better sportswear, and accessories, particularly handbags and jewelry.
For Macy’s West, the biggest change is the unique 189,000-square-foot Macy’s Home Store, which is slated to open in August.
“We’re merchandising by lifestyle,” explained a Macy’s spokeswoman, who said the store will be laid out on three levels. “We’re trying to present merchandise in the way consumers live and organize it by regions of the home.”
“It was something that Macy’s and Federated wanted to try and felt it would be the perfect place to do this,” she added. “South Coast Plaza’s commitment to the idea to create this home destination made it very appealing. And we’re very committed to Orange County as a region now. South Coast Plaza is one of our flagships, and our home business has done really well there.”
Plans call for moving table-top and Macy’s Cellar out of the existing store, which will allow for expansion of various ready-to-wear departments, the spokeswoman said. Details are still in the works.
Eddie Bauer’s move from 7,000 square feet in the main section to 11,202 square feet in the converted Crystal Court wing is also seen as a win-win situation by Mark Comstock, the company’s director of leasing. New neighbors, such as Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn, are “lifestyle-driven retailers, which is how we characterize ourselves,” Comstock said.
Opened in the early Eighties, “The South Coast Plaza store has been one of our better-performing stores,” Comstock added. The mall’s “unique mix gives people from all over the L.A. basin an excuse to visit.”
He said the store’s sales have consistently been “in the high $300-per-square-foot” range.
As part of the changes, the store is offering its new “dress casual” line of sportswear and accessories for men and women.
“We’re not as casual as we have been in the past. We’ve definitely updated our look,” explained Betsy Schumacher, divisional vice president and general merchandise manager, “We really consider ourselves to be modern sportswear.”
The South Coast Plaza store will offer female shoppers the company’s “full range of casual and dress-casual wear,” Schumacher said, noting prices for the dress-casual group, which includes soft blazers, skirts and various pants lengths, will range from $38 to $98.
Quiksilver’s decision to open its first company-owned Roxy store in South Coast Plaza was made all the easier by the fact that “it’s the premier mall in the country and in our backyard,” said Gregg Solomon, vice president of retail for Quiksilver Inc., which is headquartered in Huntington Beach. “We’re trying to build the Roxy brand and showcase it. It’s as much a marketing play as it is a retail play for us.”
Contributing to the decision, which deviates from Quiksilver’s norm of free-standing locations, Solomon said, was “the way they’ve remerchandised the mall. There’s a whole kind of younger slant. It definitely gets that younger customer. It also gets that international customer, which is very important to us. Roxy has a huge following from Japan.
“By the time you have hips, you’re almost out of [Roxy’s] demographic,” Solomon explained.
Roxy’s concept of sportswear, swimwear and accessories — including sunglasses, handbags, backpacks, watches and alarm clocks — is aimed at a 13-to-18-year-olds.
But the 1,200-square-foot store, which opens in August, will also carry merchandise geared for 18-to-25-year-olds, including a denim line and shoes, Solomon said. And it will be the testing ground for new offerings, including a line of skin-care products, perfume and nail polish that also premieres in August, as well as a prototype for future stores.
While Quiksilver jumped at the chance to set up shop in South Coast Plaza, at least one retailer took its time. Last December, Manrico Cashmere opened a 700-square-foot store, five years after being approached by Henry Segerstrom, “who used to shop in our Aspen store and loved the product,” explained Virgile Verellen, managing director of Manrico Cashmere USA Inc., a subsidiary of Manrico Holding SpA, based in Perugia, Italy.
The 10-year-old company manufactures all the cashmere for Prada, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, Jil Sander, Fendi and Ralph Lauren, said Verellen, who noted there are currently seven stores in the U.S. Plans call for an eighth unit next August in Las Vegas.
“It’s a logical place to be in our growth. You have a lot of quality retailers with a lot of luxury goods made in Italy and France,” Verellen said.
He explained the move comes after establishing a presence in such cities as Chicago and New York and developing lightweight cashmere and silk-cashmere blends suitable for Southern California.
The store’s volume for 2001 is projected to be around $600,000, Verellen said, noting the company does not advertise and builds its reputation mainly by word of mouth. Merchandise ranges from men’s and women’s cashmere apparel and accessories to cashmere blankets and pillows, retailing from $300 for a two-ply sweater to $1,800 for a blanket.
And thanks to the current reshuffling of spaces, at least one retailer is coming back to South Coast Plaza.
“We’ve waited three years to get this perfect location,” said Dottie Chanin, president of ICE Accessories, who is taking over the space vacated by Eddie Bauer.
Her store is scheduled to open in September and will offer jewelry from such designers as Cathy Waterman, Erica Courtney and Chan Lu. There will also be handbags from such designers as Isabella Fiore, Angela Frascone, Moyna and Clever Carriage. Chanin, who has stores in the Las Vegas Forum, Brentwood Gardens here and Fred Segal, Santa Monica, has fond memories of being part of South Coast Plaza during her previous retail life, when she owned Contempo Casuals.
Elated to be returning, she explained: “That was one of my very best stores, and I love the quality of the customer there. They find going out and buying things fun. They love shopping. They love quality. They have a happier nature than most other customer bases that I’ve seen.”