What does luxury retail mean, and is it changing? John Ryan reports from New York City.
Luxury – and particularly luxury in New York City – used to be a straightforward affair.
Big department stores with expensive, shiny merchandise ruled the roost.
From ‘Bloomies’ to Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue to Bergdorf Goodman, if there wasn’t a clutch of big name labels under one roof, then it probably wasn’t a luxury store.
The status quo is changing however and today, luxury in the Big Apple can mean anything from a new Nike store to 18ct gold-framed sunglasses at the Ray Ban flagship store on Wooster Street in SoHo.
“The Chelsea outpost of Barneys stands as proof that while luxury may be changing, there is life in the Manhattan department store yet”
Department stores do, of course, remain an integral part of New York’s luxury landscape, but the notion of what constitutes luxury is much broader than might have been the case just a few years ago.
Luxury may mean handbags and designer labels, but it is equally possible that is can be sportswear or urban casualwear.
Here are three examples that show how things are changing, with more to follow in the coming weeks:
Nike, Broadway, SoHo
Open for just over two months, Nike’s 55,000 sq ft, five-floor store in the heart of SoHo pulls out all the stops as far as personalisation and experience are concerned – and the pricing indicates that this one falls squarely into the luxury arena.
The main feature is the basketball court on the store’s top floor.
Given that this is one of the most expensive places in which to trade in an expensive city, this is a bold move, as the space could easily have been used to display more merchandise.
Yet space appears to not be an issue for the Oregon-headquartered brand.
The escalator that takes shoppers to the top floor occupies a large tranche of the available square footage on each level (although it can only fit one person on a step at a time).
The shop has been designed to be open-plan in feel, with views of other floors prominent while heading upwards.
Even the mannequins seem fleet of foot, thanks to the use of material that mimics the lightweight mesh used for many of the brand’s training shoes.
Open for just over two months, Nike’s 55,000 sq ft, five-floor store in the heart of SoHo pulls out all the stops as far as personalisation and experience are concerned
There are screens available throughout the store to browse more merchandise online, but there is so much to look at in-store, that this is something of an afterthought.
Nike SoHo emphasises engagement through physical, rather than virtual, experiences.
Lululemon Lab, Bond Street
The first Lululemon Lab store opened in Vancouver, and this has been followed by the opening of another on Bond Street, New York City.
This is a store for high-end athleisure merchandise, but what really sets it apart is the fact that it is also a design studio.
More than half of the space in this relatively narrow interior is devoted to a workshop where Lululemon designers create new clothes that are intended to reflect the tastes of shoppers in modish lower Manhattan.
Garment patterns hang just beyond the cash desk, and professional sewing machines – known as overlockers – occupy part of the shop vista at the back.
This can usually be found in clothing design studios, but it is not common in a shop.
For the clothes that make it onto the school gym-style climbing frames that line the walls at the front of the shop, black is the predominant colour, and the collections are more urbanwear than the kind of thing that will be sported by yoga devotees.
This is understated luxury, and putting the production process on display adds to the whole experience.
Big department stores with expensive, generally shiny merchandise ruled the roost
Department store Barneys has long been a fixture for Manhattan’s uptown crowd, with a flagship on Madison Avenue.
In 2016 however, Barneys opened a branch in downtown Chelsea, returning to the 58,000 sq ft premises where it first started, prior to moving up to Madison Avenue in 1993.
The latest store has four floors, all linked by a marble spiral staircase that looks like a nautilus shell when viewed from the top floor.
The fit-out is industrial minimalist, but with a touch of stainless steel glitz.
In a move that takes it away from the department store norm, the science lab-style beauty department is in the basement, leaving the ground floor free for handbags.
If nothing else, the Chelsea outpost of Barneys stands as proof that while luxury may be changing, there is life in the Manhattan department store yet.