Commentary

It's All About The Experience As Saks Fills First Floor With Handbags

Saks Fifth Ave. is taking its cues from Broadway and Hollywood. The retailer yesterday previewed a reimagined first floor of its flagship store in Manhattan a few days after the opening of L’Avenue at Saks -- an offshoot of a Parisian eatery beloved by movie stars and other celebrities -- on the ninth floor. 

“As part of the remodeling, the entire ground floor is now a sprawling handbag emporium featuring 50 brands that run the gamut from a $45 Saks tote to an exotic $49,500 alligator top handle bag from The Row. There are also 14 brands new to Saks, including bags from Celine and Bottega Veneta. … Exclusive products, a very important draw for department stores, are also included in the selection, with 100 bags being offered only at Saks,” reports Mario Abad for Forbes.

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“The 53,000-square-foot ground floor was previously the beauty department (now housed in the second floor) and fine jewelry (which was moved to the lower level last year). In addition, a new Instagrammable rainbow-technicolor escalator designed by Rem Koolhaas links the lower, main and second floors,” Abad adds. 

But “moving beauty, a category that is soaring, upstairs while devoting more space to handbags runs counter to some industry trends. U.S. retail sales of luxury handbags rose 2.6% last year to $7.56 billion, down from 9.2% growth in 2014, according to Euromonitor International Ltd.,” Suzanne Kapner points out for the Wall Street Journal.

“Handbags aren’t the status symbols they once were,” Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza tells her.

“He said they have been displaced by shifting priorities, as consumers spend more money on experiences such as travel, food and entertainment in addition to wellness regimes such as spa treatments, Botox and SoulCycle classes,” writes Kapner.

That said, experience is what the new Saks is all about.

“When it comes to luxury retail, ‘I believe that stores and the physical … [are] theater,’ says Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. ‘You can’t [just] open your doors with handbags there and win because then you'll lose to the Internet. We need to create an emotional connection with our customers in a way that only the physical can do,’”  writes Charisse Jones for USA Today

“Metrick likened the choice between shopping digitally and visiting the evolving Saks flagship to seeing the Broadway phenomenon ‘Hamilton’ in person or merely experiencing [it] online. ‘It's like if "Hamilton" was streaming on Netflix,' he says, ‘I'd still go see it live on Broadway … I'd never say let me just download the soundtrack.’”

As for L’Avenue at Saks, the “lavish offshoot of a celebrity magnet in Paris makes department-store dining feel like an extravagance,” Florence Fabricant writes for the New York Times

“Actress Jessica Chastain (in Roland Mouret’s Fortana dress from the Resort 2019 collection), fashion designers Joseph Altuzarra and Waris Ahluwalia, supermodels Carolyn Murphy and Joan Smalls, Elle editor-in-chief Nina Garcia, Olivia Palermo and Oscar de la Renta’s co-creative directors Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia were among the guests who joined Saks Fifth Avenue president Marc Metrick and fashion director Roopal Patel on Thursday night to christen buzzy Parisian restaurant L’Avenue’s first U.S. outpost at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York,” Laurie Brookins writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

“The ninth-floor restaurant, in ivory and beige by the designer Philippe Starck, has a varied menu: soups, salads (many with avocado) and dishes like vegan vegetable curry, tiger shrimp, crisp duck, rigatoni with morels, and Dover sole, some with an Asian accent. The floor below is a lounge for cocktails and light bites like spring rolls, caviar and smoked salmon. It’s called Le Chalet, and looks as if it were transported directly from St. Moritz,” Fabricant reports.

“I usually put myself on a social hiatus the week before my show, but L’Avenue in Paris is like the centrifugal force of the fashion community -- not only during a fashion week, but also for the fabric shows, the whole industry is there,” Alice & Olivia creative director and CEO Stacey Bendet tells THR’s Brookins. 

Saks also recently announced that “Where Brains Meet Beauty,” a podcast hosted by Jodi Katz “featuring provocative conversations with beauty industry leaders,” will be recording monthly during live events on “Beauty on 2.” Saks  opened the new 32,000-square-foot beauty space -- “with a significant focus on experiences” -- on the second floor of the flagship last May.

Speaking of experiences, New York Fashion Week kicks off this evening and runs through next Wednesday.

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