Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

As retailing girds for a terrifying season, brands continue to fill New York with new boutiques and flagships. Here’s a peek inside the city’s stocking.
Posted December 7, 2008
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It’s been said that when the economy struggles, hemlines fall. Well, metaphorically speaking, if the rest of the country is wearing mid-length skirts this holiday season, New York’s fashion-forwards are still showing a lot of leg. Yes, in the midst of the city that epitomizes the economic meltdown, entire neighborhoods continue to be revitalized with exciting and expensive new retail openings. Although building starts are down, the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices report that New York has sustained the lowest decline in home prices among major American cities. An Upper East Side apartment still demands an easy $2 million. Now, old warehouses in Brooklyn are new luxury condominiums. And new retail continues to abound as the biggest shopping season of the year approaches. True Religion, the trendy jeans-maker, will open a new store in mid-December in, of all places, the Wall Street financial district, already home to a new Tiffany’s, Hermès, Thomas Pink, Canali and Tumi. Foreign retailers continue to buy into the Big Apple, confident that conditions in the U.S. will improve. Barcelona-based bridal retailer Pronovias opened a dramatic, 4000-square-foot space that dominates East 52nd Street between Fifth and Madison. Les Hiscoe, vp of the retail group at Shawmut Design and Construction (Boston and New York), says, “Foreign investors believe New York is still the place to showcase European brands in all their glory.” According to Mario Gonzalez Corzo, assistant professor of economics at Lehman College of the City University of New York, “There is a global perspective that a presence in New York is critical for success. It positions you at the forefront of innovation and creativity and sends a message to the rest of the world that you have arrived.” Both Fifth and Madison avenues are teeming with new retail ventures, including Tom Ford’s super-luxe environment in Bergdorf Goodman; Stuart Weitzman’s sculptural extravaganza on Madison between 58th and 59th; Juicy Couture’s cornucopia of visual stimuli on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street; and Ermenegildo Zegna’s ode to the environment on Fifth between 52nd and 53rd streets with an intricate metal and glass staircase and sustainable materials throughout the space. Further downtown, Bleecker Street in the West Village has become an open-air shopping mall. Since Reiss of London established itself there a few years ago, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs and Coach have followed. And then there are the more offbeat retailers that make the experience “positively Bleecker.” Mulberry, a high-end British accessories boutique, sets the tone, followed by Bond NYC, showcasing perfumes and fragrances; Fresh, with pristine white walls and natural beauty products; See, a sleek, affordable fashion-forward eyewear boutique; plus Brunello Cucineli, Ruehl, Cynthia Rowley and Tommy Hilfiger. The Meatpacking District on West 14th Street continues to grow as a frontier of trendy retailing and nightlife. The same stretch of New York real estate that once featured sides of beef hanging on iron hooks now displays couture evening gowns on satin-covered clothes hangers. An impressive roster between Ninth and Tenth avenues includes Apple, Alexander McQueen, the newly opened Hugo Boss and Moschino’s enchanted forest in what was once the Quality Meats Butcher Shop. New pockets of SoHo are becoming viable, upbeat retail destinations. Jil Sander on Howard Street offers marble floors, stark white walls and illusionary effects created by revolving mirrored strips in a gallery-like setting. Her neighbor, Ameridian, presents contemporary South African art, including handcrafted porcelain, woven grass and carved wood. Opening Ceremony, the fashion boutique long a favorite destination on the street, features merchandise from a different country each year. Most retail tours of New York would once have ended at the water’s edge. But now there’s a reason to walk across the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges into Brooklyn. Across the Manhattan Bridge is the quaintly named DUMBO neighborhood (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass), a historic preservation that includes a theater, galleries, an art center, a chocolate factory, restaurants and small shops. And, across the Williamsburg Bridge, small boutiques such as Brooklyn Industries and Triple Five Soul line Bedford Avenue in a once-downtrodden neighborhood that was previously a magnet for struggling immigrants. This, of course, is only a snapshot of New York heading into what’s been said will be the worst holiday shopping season in decades. How New York – and retailing in general – will weather the next few years is only guesswork. As Wall Street goes, so will retailing. And CUNY’s Gonzalez Corzo says, “While Wall Street may not be the same, it will still be a significant player. It will be leaner and more efficient.” Leaner will help it get into a pair of True Religion’s $250 jeans. Courtesy of Pronovias, Barcelona, Spain Eric Feigenbaum, New York