The Colony Hotel in Palm Beach has emerged during COVID-19 as a retail destination for pop-ups and trunk shows, an alternative to Worth Avenue, the Royal Poinciana Plaza and the Shops at the Breakers. The property has hosted nonstop events for a variety of brands and stores all season long and is fielding requests for months after Easter, when the island traditionally clears out.
“I live between Palm Beach and Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side and could see how retail was challenged before COVID-19,” said Sarah Wetenhall, who’s organized one to two pop-ups a season since she and her husband bought the Colony in 2016. “The interesting part is the culmination and intensity they’re happening now.”
Wetenhall said she doesn’t do any outreach, and partnerships are generated from the brands’ end. Saks Fifth Avenue, Michael Kors, Joey Wölffer, Lela Rose, Wyld Empyre, Ala von Auersperg and MDVII are among those that approached her this year.
“We find out if they want more eyeballs on them or prefer a more exclusive, luxury experience, and then we decide the best space and formula,” she said, having turned away requests as well. “Not everyone can pop up here. We’re going for a certain caliber to create a visual conversation for our guests and to surprise and delight them.”
Whether a store has a presence in Palm Beach or not isn’t a factor. Though Saks sits directly behind the hotel, its Pink Paradise pop-up around the pool and the adjacent, 650-square-foot Solarium in January drew shoppers. Many brands whose stores on the island have shuttered during COVID-19 are taking advantage of the location.
Kors, which closed its collections boutique on Worth Avenue last year, hosted its first Palm Beach pop-up from March 8 to 12. The brand showed its spring-summer collection in the Colony’s Sisters Suite, one of seven uniquely designed villas through collaborations with tastemakers. (The list includes Palm Beach Lately bloggers and sisters Beth Aschenbach and Danielle Norcross with Serena & Lily’s home collection, and Aerin Lauder and her namesake line for the recently refreshed Villa Jasmine.)
Other COVID-19-friendly accommodations and common areas to choose from are a 2,800-square-foot ballroom, which was renovated by Kemble Interiors; two penthouses; a 1,100-square-foot interior restaurant that was used by Swifty’s before the pandemic limited its dining service to the terrace, and the Florida Room. Wetenhall said health protocol hasn’t been a problem with her hotel’s mask mandate, and because Swifty’s Pool and the majority of pop-ups don’t require visitors to walk through the lobby.
Wölffer, who left the Royal when her namesake boutique’s three-year lease was up, staged a 10-day event in the Solarium in February. Stretching the event’s dates to accommodate repeat customers and late shipments due to winter storms paid off.
“I knew we’d get a lot of traffic from the hotel, and the guests who live at the hotel for the season were some of my best customers,” said Wölffer, who did well with Black Iris pajama sets that double as ready-to-wear, Alix of Bohemia jackets, Sue Sartor dresses and Solid & Striped swimwear. “Sundresses by the pool is my vibe.”
Represented at Saks here, Lela Rose takes over the Solarium from March 26 to 29. The designer also plans to premiere her Pearl by Lela Rose diffusion label, which is only sold through her Dallas store or trunk shows and pop-ups. With their exclusively crafted cocktails and matching napkins for each fashion collection, Pearl by Lela Rose activations are especially conducive to the Colony’s atmosphere.
“You can literally match your drink to your dress, and your dress to your table,” said Rose, who plans to serve shoppers the Picnic Spritz while they peruse her main line’s summer 2021 collection and Pearl by Lela Rose’s spring looks.
Beyond catering to her strong Palm Beach following, she jumped on board for the hotel’s atmosphere as well as Kemble’s decor and Wetenhall’s community building. “I adore the Colony and think Celerie’s renovations and the hand-painted wallpaper are incredible,” said Rose, who’s throwing a book signing party for Kemble and her “Island Whimsy” being released in April.
But Amy Golden, a stylist for Pearl by Lela Rose, summed up their impetus best: “I remarked to a Palm Beach friend that the Colony is as routine as a grocery store run for the locals and that we had to be there.”