mont blanc pen pouch store hopes to succeed where Saks
1996 11 06 04:00:00 PDT New York It’s a river of shoppers women in Armani suits, young men in nylon windbreakers, befuddled Midwestern tourists. Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street in Manhattan is a blur of faux fur hats, gleaming cosmetic cases and little designer boutiques nestled next to counters selling Mont Blanc pens and Bottega Veneta handbags.
“Try a little Chaos?” asks a salesclerk in an unmistakable New Yawk accent, holding up a bottle of Donna Karan’s new perfume
In a way, that’s the question Bloomingdale’s will be asking when it opens a new store at Stanford Shopping Center on Friday, after kicking things off with a private black tie benefit featuring Liza Minnelli tonight.
Will Silicon Valley, home of Dress Down Friday, warm up to Bloomingdale’s, purveyor of urban chic? Will South Bay shoppers like the renovated former Emporium space, where an inlaid slate island the better to show off the mannequins qualifies as a “fashion moment”? Will they flock to a boutique inspired by the Broadway hit “Rent,” which sells black vinyl pants and hologram T shirts?
In short, will it play in Palo Alto?
Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s, knows he has a challenge ahead.
“None of our competitors are welcoming us with open arms,” said Gould, who nonetheless says the move is a good fit, despite the fact that the Palo Alto Bloomie’s is only one fifth the size of the New York store.
“(Ours is) a customer that is fashion forward, wants newness and has a very strong bent on home,” said Gould, who pointed out that domestics and housewares are an integral part of Bloomingdale’s business.
The Palo Alto store, renovated for $25 million, features open spaces, bright lights, curving aisles and inviting counter tops. The first floor is devoted to women’s wear, with labels such as Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren and a sizable petite department.
In a first for local specialty and department stores, women’s cosmetics will be on open shelves rather than behind glass counters. The second floor features housewares, men’s clothing and children’s wear.
At least some local shoppers are looking forward to the opening.
“We’ve missed Magnin’s and Saks at the shopping center, and I think we needed something to fill in,” says designer dressed Rhea Friend of Woodside,
who is among the 2,000 guests who have paid a minimum of $250 a person to attend tonight’s gala.
Paula Foley of Atherton, who also will attend the party, echoes her feelings.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic. We desperately need another store. We just have Neiman’s and Nord strom. I’m very happy about this and I think everyone out here is.”
Ticket sales for tonight’s party, which will be held in a 100 by 220 foot tent in the parking lot, have already raised more than $1 million for the Stanford University Medical Center. The gala, which Bloomingdale’s has dubbed “The Ultimate Premiere,” sold out weeks ago. Minnelli is expected to sing for an hour and will probably do “New York, New York.” How could she not?
In a way, Minnelli is the perfect metaphor for the new store. She was hot back when she starred in “Cabaret” and cavorted nightly with designer Halston and other beautiful people at New York’s Studio 54. Then her career plunged. Now it’s heating up again as she steps in to replace Julie Andrews in the Broadway hit “Victor/Victoria” in January.
Similarly, Bloomingdale’s was the hottest place on Earth to shop during the ’70s and ’80s when its legendary foreign country promotional themes and perfume launches were not to be missed. Bloomie’s was such a New York fixture that Woody Allen even joked about it in his movie “Manhattan.”
The 59th Street store, however, lost its cachet in the early ’90s when it was bought by Federated Department Stores. It grappled with bankruptcy and found itself in stiff competition with Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.
But with its cutting edge “Rent” collection and glamorous “Evita” inspired clothes that will be in stores next month, the beat seems to be back in Bloomie’s.
In addition to the Palo Alto store, Bloomingdale’s is expanding into California with three more branches that will open this month in Southern California. A fifth will open in the Beverly Center in Los Angeles in March.
One of Bloomingdale’s biggest battles will be the sea of sameness customers encounter in one department store after another. A recent preview of the Palo Alto Bloomingdale’s reveals many of the same designer labels available at neighboring stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
The Stanford Bloomingdale’s will try to distinguish itself with more than 1,000 exclusive items throughout the store. Appearances by 165 designers, celebrities and chefs in its first month alone may also give it an edge. Ken Norton Jr. of the 49ers will be there for Guess men’s wear on Tuesday and supermodel Christy Turlington will appear for CK underwear on November 21.
“Bloomingdale’s’ challenge will be to offer a unique product that’s distinctive,” said Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “The consumer there is very sophisticated and savvy and wants that upscale environment and service attributes.” Saks closed its store at Stanford Shopping Center last year.
Hedging its bets a bit, Bloomingdale’s sent a team from New York to design and open the store, but also hired Lorraine O’Connor, who ran the former Emporium store that Bloomingdale’s took over, as operating vice president and general manager.
Joan Weinstein, who owns the Ultimo boutique in Chicago and who also entered the California market when she opened a Jil Sander store in San Francisco last summer, predicts Bloomie’s will do well in Palo Alto.
“I think they’re probably very clever about the areas they chose for their kind of business,” she said. “If they pick the right market they will do very well, they have their own little niche.”
“They’re trying to overcome the Bloomingdale’s curse. When they go west of the Mississippi they’re a colossal flop,” said Alan Millstein, New York based publisher of Fashion Network Report. Bloomingdale’s closed its Dallas store in 1990 and the space remained vacant for years. It recently reopened as a JC Penney.
“A lot of the success of Bloomingdale’s will depend on how good your economy remains and if the store can continue to develop unique looking merchandise. Women are not exactly walking around in gunny sacks waiting for this store to come west.”