Saks Fifth Avenue, Mexico City

Down Mexico Way: Luxury department store brings its U.S. brand of elegance to a flagship store in an upscale section of Mexico City.
Posted July 14, 2008

Saks Fifth Avenue chooses its locations carefully. It has limited its luxury chain to about 50 sites in the fashion capitals of the U.S.: New York, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Miami and the like. It has had only two locations outside the U.S., both in the Middle East.

So its newest store opening, in Mexico City, is a bit of a surprise. Mexico City is not commonly thought of as a fashion capital. However, Saks cautions not to underestimate this huge metro area of 22 million people. There are 2 million households with incomes of $100,000 or more. “Our research tells us there’s a sizable group of Mexicans hungry for luxury brands and designer apparel,” says David Pilnick, Saks’ senior vp, international business ventures.

Saks, in partnership with Mexican billionaire and Saks shareholder Carlos Slim Helú, chose to locate its first Mexico City store in Santa Fe, an emerging area in the western part of the sprawling city that’s home to condominiums, restaurants and the Mexican headquarters of such international companies as Hewlett-Packard, PepsiCo and 3M.

The space is an old 150,000-square-foot Sears Mexico in the Santa Fe Mall. Two of Mexico’s biggest department store chains, El Palacio de Hierro and El Puerto de Liverpool, anchor the mall but neither delivers the Saks-level luxury experience. And there’s no other U.S. luxury retailer in Mexico.

The designers decided not to build a Mexican version of Saks Fifth Avenue but rather to bring the retailer’s special brand of U.S. elegance to this flagship. “Wealthy Mexicans travel frequently to the U.S. and have come to know the Saks brand,” says Karen Oleson, creative principal at Hambrecht Oleson Design Associates (New York). “They want the experience, the brands and the service.”

It’s a bright and open three-level space with vast sightlines, elegant materials and a mostly soft and demure palette. There are a few nods to Mexican art and style around the store – some punches of color, some mosaic textures with Aztec references and the work of local artists throughout the space – but primarily this store is modeled after the newest Saks stores in the U.S.

As such, it includes luxury personal shopper lounges – an expansive Fifth Avenue Club for women on the second floor and a men’s club on three – connected through an exclusive elevator to VIP parking below.

“The design approach was to expand on the recently completed Atlanta and New Orleans stores,” says Oleson, “and create a modern, harmonious environment that allow the merchandise, brand names and visual elements to be seen and experienced.”


The plan is a simple rectangle with a centered escalator well. Merchandise statements along the outer perimeter are represented by soft shops – especially on the women’s floor – with branded back walls and some iconic material, piece of furniture or fixture to showcase the brand in a Saks-designed environment. The men’s third floor has more hard shops. “Soft shops in the women’s department give us flexibility,” says Pilnick. “There’s more turnover with women’s brands. There are fewer dominant men’s brands, but they tend to remain strong year after year.”

Center areas on both floors are defined by pads of merchandise organized around columns. Glass and wooden slat screens allow visibility and flow through the open floor plan. The main floor has a 7500-square-foot shoe department and hard shops around the perimeter featuring most of the accessories and jewelry names: Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Versace, Hermès, Cartier, Bulgari.

Saks thinks there’s potential for two or three additional stores in Mexico – a second store in Mexico City, perhaps, and in Monterrey or Guadalajara, as well. But first, the luxury retailer wants to make sure it gets this one right. “It generally takes Saks two years to build a client base in a new market,” Pilnick says. “We have to cultivate the customer to get used to our price points.”

Client: Saks Fifth Avenue, New York -- David Pilnick, senior vice president; Cherie Flanagan, general merchandise manager; Patricia Marques, director; Steven Giedymin, visual director; Eric Fournais, construction manager

Design: Hambrecht Oleson Design Associates, New York -- Karen Oleson, creative principal; Argelio Diaz, project director; Susan Menk, creative director; Sang Min Park, senior designer

General and Fixture Contractor: Grupo Stor, México City, México; Alfonso Solloa, principal; Fernanda Carduso, project manager

Showcase Contractor: Faubion Associates, Dallas

Lighting: luminacion, Iztacalco, Mexico; Boyd Lighting, San Francisco; Color Kinetics, Burlington, Mass.; Global Lighting, Irvington, N.Y.; Moooi, Breda, the Netherlands; Pucci, New York

Carpet: Atlas Carpet, Los Angeles; AtelierD3, Lomas de Chapultepec, Mexico; Corniche Carpets, Walnut Creek, Ca.

Flooring: Daltile, Columbus, Ohio; Cappa, Mexico City; Ann Sacks, New York;Studio Four, Los Angeles; Stone Source, New York; Grupo Porcelanite, Mexico City; Tabu, Hackensack, N.J.

Wallcoverings: Architex, New York; Designtex, New York; Innovations, New York; Kravet, New York; Lanark, North Royalton, Ohio; Maya Romanoff, Chicago; Studio E, New York; Trikes, Dallas

Furniture: Allermuir, Lancashire, U.K.; Conceptos Corporatives, col. Zedec Sante Fe, Mexico; Creative Forces, Garden City, N.Y.; Louis Interiors, Toronto; Vaswani Inc., Springfield, N.J.

Metal Gate Artist: Alejandro Escalante, Mexico City

Fifth Avenue Club Plaster Mural: Faubion Associates, Dallas

Photography: Richard Cadan, Brooklyn, N.Y.