When does a mere store become a destination? A gallery? A treasure chest of baubles and fine knits?
When the luxury fashion business demands such an upgrade.
Competition both among retailers and between online and in-store operations means discerning consumers need ‘surprise and delight’ to part with serious cash. Luxury brands are ubiquitous, but how they’re curated, displayed, and paired can still woo even the most jaded of shoppers.
Saks Fifth Avenue operates an existing store in Sarasota, but it embodies what can now be called the old school style of department stores. Compared to more modern spaces, it is dim, cramped.
What replaces the single-story store in South Sarasota is an airy two-floor location, at a new mall, central to the Suncoast region, along Interstate-75 at University Parkway, on the border between Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Forty-five minutes from Tampa and St. Petersburg.
It is proximate, within a half hour drive or less, to places like Longboat Key, Siesta Key, Anna Maria Island, and Lakewood Ranch. If a random survey of housing prices in these communities is any indication, there will be plenty of customers interested in $780 Rupert Sanderson suede pumps.
The Mall at University Town Center culminates the development of the University corridor. When I was at New College, little existed just off the highway exit. During my four-year tenure, a new Target was built, along with the road network for the future retail hub, which borders an artificial lake rowing facility, also along I-75, which will host the International Rowing Competition in 2017.
The confluence of the mall’s creation and the forthcoming athletic event has forced a reprioritization of transportation and infrastructure improvements, as evidenced by Florida Governor Scott’s recent announcement of funds coming to the interchange at the mall’s northeast corner.
Just ten years ago, very little existed near this mostly retiree community. Now, a range of ages and uses mix; the area is close enough to Tampa and St. Petersburg for major flights and business, and within a short drive to growing smaller towns like Bradenton and Sarasota.
I have written about my love of streetside retail, intermeshed with the urban grid. So when I heard of this new mall, the first enclosed mall built in the United States in many years, in some ways perpetuating what is wrong with urban development and redevelopment, I half cringed. Have you heard of sprawl? This is it.
My other emotion was excitement. But solely for the Saks. Any new luxury retail, especially in my backyard, is worth celebrating, especially since the Tampa store closed two years ago. As I found, the new store could stand alone from the rest of the mall, as a destination for whimsy, childish thrill, and beauty.
Far from purely commercial, Saks Sarasota’s new home feels like a chic lounge – a place to hang. Visually, every angle is pleasant. Textures mingle with LED lighting to transform every square foot into optimal selling space.
During the press preview event, each department was explained both in terms of merchandise mix (brands), and architectural elements. Notably, the store has more windows than typical department stores, a nod to its midcentury-modern ‘bring the outside in’ exterior style. It’s interior is open, with boundaries defined by translucent barriers, changes in floor cover, and varied wall schemes.
The ground-floor leathergoods, cosmetics, and jewelry sections are by far the most intricate and beautiful. The store has negotiated hard vendors (shop-in-shops) for some impressive and exclusive names: Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Cartier, Pomellato, H.Stern, and Hermès timepieces.
The Tom Ford Beauty hardshop is one of the few in the country to carry the full line of fragrance and beauty – for men and women.
Key men’s vendors include Brunello Cucinelli, Isaia, and Ermenegildo Zegna at the ultra high-end. Rag & Bone, Armani Collezioni, Tod’s, and Bally fill the department at more affordable price points. Saks’ house brand also constitutes significant floor area, a nod to its success with label-neutral male shoppers.
Unique to the men’s department is a fitting room that doubles as a lounge, complete with minibar, couches, flat-screens, and grand windows that look onto the sunny Florida weather. Quite the departure from fluorescent lighting and strewn hangars…
The entire second floor is devoted to the gentler gender, wares subdivided into designer, modern, contemporary & workshop, and evening & lingerie.
The upper floor complements the ground floor with hard shops for key designers like Etro, Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Donna Karan, and Emilio Pucci. Michael Kors is represented, and my least favorite, though he is popular on the Suncoast circuit.
The Fifth Avenue Club takes shopping a step further, with personalized appointments, in separate dressing rooms, for privacy-conscious clientele.
Also upstairs, right of the up escalator, is the entrance to Sophie’s, the Saks in-store restaurant. It is only the second of its kind nationally, after Chicago’s Miracle Mile Saks store.
Much like Bazille at Nordstrom Tampa, this intimate space is designed with the gourmand shopper in mind. It brings an additional facet of enjoyment to the shopping trip, and entices visitors to stay a while. My favorite part is the outdoor terrace, which during the winter, will undoubtedly be a sought spot for ladies who lunch. Both indoor and outdoor areas of Sophie’s have seating at the bar, good for quick bites or a cocktail.
Throughout, the execution of this new store is overwhelming. Everything is just so beautiful. Varied designs and unique finishes flourish every corner, every cubby. Visual merchandising mixed with the right product make the new store difficult to nitpick.
I left our preview tour with a single headline in mind: this is the new Saks. Whereas before, little stood to differentiate the Manhattan-based chain from competitors Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom…the new design and product curation, mixed with activity (e.g. a restaurant & bar) give Saks a fresh edge. It feels current. On point. Nothing about this store says “grandma’s Saks.”
In light of my recent post about Saks Fifth Avenue, What Is Saks Fifth Avenue?, I’m most impressed.
Naturally, I wish the store were in Tampa. I also wonder how well such high-end designers will sell, given the yoga couture we can so often fall prey to, with our weather and lack of pomp. I’m optimistic, resting assured in the data and analytics of the accountants and buyers that help steer this publicly traded, somewhat bruised company.
Most of all, I wish this Saks were part of a modern urban redevelopment project, smack in Downtown. Anchoring a reemergence of streetside retail.
Alas, it is none of these things. But it is an oasis, among the common and the soulless big boxes. And for that, we can rejoice! You will undoubtedly find a little bit of romance to enjoy or take home.
See below for a full listing of the designer lines carried at the new store, broken down by department. Info comes straight from the press kit!
Chanel, Dior, Tom Ford, and Jo Malone hard vendors. Bobbi Brown, Bond No. 9, By Kilian, Cellcosmet, Chantecaille, Cle de Peau, Creed, Diptyque, Estee Lauder, Kiehl’s, La Mer, Lancome, La Prairie, Laura Mercier, Revive, Sisley, Trish McEvoy, Valmont, and YSL.
H.Stern, Pomellato, Cartier, and Hermès hard vendors. Ippolita, David Yurman, Meira T, and others (not listed in press kit).
Manolo Blahnik, Saint Laurent Paris, Prada, Gucci, Guiseppe Zanotti, Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior, Valentino, Ferragamo, Tod’s, Alexandre Birman, Brian Atwood, Chloe, Tory Burch, Stuart Weitzman, Michael Kors, kate spade, Tabitha Simmons, Joie, Vince, Rag & Bone, Rebecca Minkoff, Sophia Webster, and Sergio Rossi.
Handbags / Accessories
Saint Laurent Paris, Valentino, Chloe, Alexander McQueen, and Jimmy Choo hard vendors. Stella McCartney, Dolce & Gabbana, Lanvin, Nancy Gonzalez, Roberto Cavalli, MCM, Tory Burch, Vince, Loeffler Randall, Rebecca Minkoff, 3.1 Philip Lim, Elizabeth & James, Michael Kors, Khirma Eliazov, Furla, Marc Jacobs, and Marc by Marc Jacobs.
Brunello Cucinelli, Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Emilio Pucci, Donna Karan, Michael Kors, and Etro hard vendors. Roberto Cavalli, Versace, Ralph Lauren Black Label, Stella McCartney, Akris Punto, Armani Collezioni, Yigal Azrouel, Burberry, Escada, St. John, Herve Leger, Erdem, and Pauw.
Lafayette 148, Elie Tahari, Eileen Fisher, Tory Burch, Polo Ralph Lauren, Red Valentino, Peserico, Fuzzi, M Missoni, and Saks Fifth Avenue Cashmere.
Women’s Contemporary & Workshop
Vince, Theory, Joie, DVF, Needle & Thread, BCBG MaxAzria, Alice & Olivia, James Perse, Bailey 44, Clover Canyon, Parker, Rebecca Minkoff, Rebecca Taylor, Haute Hippie, IRO, Lot 78, Tanya Taylor, Helmut Lang, 3.1 Philip Lim, Rag & Bone, Elizabeth & James, L’Agence, and ALC.
Theia, Badgley Mischka, Teri Jon, Tadashi Shoji, Aidan Mattox, Carmen Marc Valvo, BCBG MaxAzria, and Notte by Marchesa.
The Men’s Store
Isaia, Brunello Cucinelli, Ermenegildo Zegna, Armani Collezioni, Couture DS, Burberry Brit, Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Collection, Etro, Sand, Vince, and shoes from Salvatore Ferragamo, To Boot New York, Tod’s, Prada, Swims, and Del Toro.