NEW YORK — Neighborhoods go in and out of fashion and rents rise and fall like hemlines. The popularity of designers ebbs and flows, chains expand amd contract, pioneers stake claims to edgy streets and far-flung environs, and players with big egos make grand entrances and sometimes, swift exits.
Retailing in New York has never been boring or easy. In the last two years, national chains such as Gap Inc. and Limited Inc. closed underperforming stores or consolidated space in deference to the economy and their own lackluster performance.
Uptown luxury brands began decamping in SoHo two years ago. Talk about bad timing: The harmonic convergence of economic woes, 9/11 and the subsequent drop in tourism dealt the area a heavy blow.
Busloads of Japanese tourists raring to shop disappeared and local customers never materialized. Cartier and H. Stern retreated from the area, but players such as Chanel and Ferragamo soldier on. “For rent” signs are a ubiquitous sight. On Greene Street alone, at least a dozen vacancies were counted on a recent day.
“There’s not a lot of velocity in the marketplace in SoHo,” said Jeffrey Paisner, executive managing director, Lansco, who brokered a deal for L’Occitane at 92 Prince Street, where H. Stern was going to open its store. Bloomingdale’s will give the area a jolt of energy when it opens a 90,000-square-foot store at 504 Broadway in February. Scores of stores are expected to feed off the traffic. Rents in the area range from $125 to $150 a square foot on Broadway to $350 a square foot for a small space on Prince Street, one of the more desirable in the neighborhood, but some would-be tenants are waiting for prices to drop.
There are signs of life — Bagutta Life. The hybrid fashion-lifestyle store opened at 72-76 Greene Street in early September. The decor is industrial space meets faded 17th-century Dubrovnik elegance, and merchandise includes a Les Escaliers-like mélange of fashion, furniture, jewelry, fragrance and children’s clothing.
Marc Bagutta, Jalaine Adamson Sommers and Bernard Paul buy some of the sexiest, most interesting fashion from designers such John Galliano, Christian Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Alexander McQueen, Missoni, Stella McCartney, Esteban Cortazar, If Six Was Nine and Rochas by Olivier Theyskens. There’s also exotic furniture by Ria & Yiouri Augousti covered in shagreen, abalone shells and snowfish skins.
When it comes to up-and-coming neighborhoods, it always takes a few hearty pioneers to break new ground. After an area begins to show promise, the prevailing attitude among the fashion flock seems to be, “Last designer in is a rotten egg!”
Bleecker Street, a quintessential tree-lined Village destination with antiques and pastry shops, is officially on the fashion industry’s radar screen. Ralph Lauren earlier this month opened a 700-square-foot boutique at 380 Bleecker Street between Charles and Perry Streets in the heart of the West Village. He joins Marc Jacobs, at number 403, and Lulu Guinness, at number 394.
Jeffrey Kalinsky was the first to colonize the Meatpacking District when he opened Jeffrey New York in 1999 on West 14th Street in the shadow of the West Side Highway. Since then, he’s been joined by Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Yigal Azrouel. Catherine Malandrino plans to open a 3,500-square-foot store at 652 Hudson Street, on the corner of West 13th Street.
Carlos Miele designed his 3,800-square-foot store at 408 West 14th Street to be a conversation piece with artsy video installations and suspended “floating” mannequins. Each represents the human form in one manifestation or another.
The neighborhood’s development has come in fits and starts. Several high-profile restaurants, including Fressen, have closed. The area doesn’t get nearly as much foot traffic as SoHo, but many retailers consider their stores destinations. Brokers said a store on a prime street in the neighborhood can fetch $60 to $70 a square foot.
Artists and other creative pilgrims have populated the Lower East Side for years. Keith McNally, who has never been afraid of opening restaurants in uncharted territory, opened Schiller’s Liquor Bar at Rivington and Norfolk Streets. Soon the neighborhood will be one step closer to gentrification with the scent of Starbucks’ house blend wafting through the air. The company has reportedly signed a lease for a cafe at Chrystie Place, a large retail complex being developed by Williams Jackson Ewing of Baltimore. The development could act as a bridge between NoLiTa and the Lower East Side and could validate the area for other national chains.
Hell’s Kitchen, which is populated by taxi garages, horse stables, car body shops and fledgling theater companies, doesn’t immediately bring to mind fashion, but that didn’t stop Lyd. The women’s clothing and accessories boutique selling young contemporary lines from Los Angeles, London and New York recently opened at 405 West 44th Street near Ninth Avenue. The store, which occupies a storefront on a gritty block, looks like it was dropped from the sky with its turquoise blue facade and sparkling interiors. With rents ranging from $60 per square foot on side streets to $110 per square foot on Ninth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen is an area where shops with shoestring budgets can take a chance.
On the other hand, only the best-funded retailers can play the high-priced game of musical chairs on Fifth and Madison Avenues and East 57th Street.
In the past year, scores of stores along Madison Avenue have been plastered with “for rent” signs. The fallout can be blamed in part on the general economic malaise. Spaces rented during the height of the real estate boom are now nearing the end of their lease terms and the softening luxury market is discouraging some tenants from renewing. “The economic conditions are not supporting landlords’ desired rent conditions,” said Paisner. (See sidebar.)
Deep-pocketed Gucci built a flagship for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche at 3 East 57th Street. The 11,400-square-foot store, which bowed in June, is a study in contrasts, with sleek lines, smoky mirrors and white lacquered walls. Rougher elements include hand-hewn wood wardrobes and slate-colored floors.
Façonnable’s 21,555-square-foot flagship on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 51st Street, uses traditional materials such as herringbone hardwood floors and French doors with a touch of luxury in the form of mohair-lined dressing rooms. The collection itself has moved into more feminine styling and higher prices with its new Façonnable Platine luxury line.
A 1,500-square-foot, wedge-shaped temporary store on 50th Street bordering Rockefeller Center houses Isaac Mizrahi’s new Target collection. Cheap materials such as particle board were used in the store, which features products priced from about $10 to $26.
Ferragamo’s 22,000-square-foot flagship on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, the company’s largest worldwide, is a testament to the company’s commitment to the luxury sector. The store seamlessly combines two buildings. One housed the former Ferragamo’s women’s shop, part of which is being leased to Ermenegildo Zegna, the other housed a Banana Republic. Men’s wear has been transplanted from the former Ferragamo men’s boutique in the Trump Tower.
Jimmy Choo’s 1,500-square-foot jewel box of a boutique opened at 716 Madison Avenue last month with pale lilac satin-covered wall panels, Art Deco mirrors, sleek Ultrasuede chaises and a dressing room in variegated lavender hues. Venetian crystal drop chandeliers, luxe velvet drapes and tiny fringed footstools — the better to cosset your peds, my dear — complete the look. Choo’s perilously high stilettos and new line of handbags beckon seductively from Lucite tables.