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Retail Chatter

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Last week, I attended a dinner party. As we all know, if no one remotely interesting ends up sitting on the left or right of you, it can end up being a long and boring night. Well, I got lucky because to the right of me was a real estate agent who is one of the best in commercial properties. By the end of the night I ended up calling her 'Agent 99,' because she knew exactly what luxury brands were making bold moves and to what location. I was thrilled to be her dinner mate because a couple of hours prior at cocktails one of the guests asked me, "Is luxury retail here to stay" and without hesitation I replied "Absolutely."

With Agent 99 to my right I took the opportunity to do my best impersonation of a Barbara Walters special and proceeded to ask about all of the luxury brands that were moving in behind those barricades and vacant spaces. If you are like me -- one who spends time combing through Madison Ave, Fifth Ave and Soho -- then you will understand why I was so quick to respond to the question about the longevity of luxury retail.

Let's start with Madison Avenue and the news of Fendi leaving their Fifth Avenue space to take over the old Mont Blanc store at the corner of Madison and 57th Street. Then the reinvention of Barneys, to which an entire floor is now devoted to shoes and a reassortment of luxury brands under one roof -- not to mention a hefty investment in Azzedine Alaia! A smart move for sure.

Next we have a new men's luxury shop, Berluti, run by Antoine Arnault the son of the one and only Bernard Arnault, opening near Brunello Cucinelli. A short stroll away will be the new Alexander McQueen shop rumored to be splitting the old Valentino space with yet another luxury brand; supposedly the landlord was asking for much more than the corner is worth, so they moved on. It sounds like Madison Avenue is on fire. Moving further up Madison, Valentino's new home is the old Loro Piana Townhouse; next door the old Dolce & Gabbana women's store will be divided in half with Dennis Basso taking one side and Agnona taking the other. The original Dolce & Gabbana men's store will be converted to their women's shop.

Moving over to Fifth Avenue, aside from Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and a sprinkling of Luxury brands, the majority of shops were all mass stores. Suddenly luxury brands have decided to go big or not go at all. Let's talk about yet another newly opened Dolce Gabbana store that is 17,000 sq ft in the old Escada space and the 19,000 sq ft store that Valentino is building in the old Takashamiya location. That's a hell of a lot of product category to fill all of that square footage, not to mention you will need at least a staff of 50 or more to cover all the shifts.

Heading downtown to Soho, on one block alone there will be both Balenciaga Men's and Women's shops in separate buildings and it's also rumored that Dolce Gabbana and Tory Burch will be part of the Mercer Street mix. Moving over to Greene Street, the first U.S.-concept Saint Laurent store has arrived; I must say it's a very cool concept indeed and yet another luxury brand that has an uptown flagship but also felt compelled to establish a prominent downtown presence. When Agent 99 said that we're discussing designer brands, I couldn't help but to ask also about food since that too in some cases is part of the luxury world and I wanted to know about expansion in that industry. I thought outside of Jean-Georges Mercer Kitchen, what other brand would be a major home run and naturally, the one and only Laduree would be the ultimate. Sure enough, half of the old Barolo on West Broadway will be transformed into a flagship luxury macaroon house with a garden and all.

"Is luxury retail here to stay?" I say brands would not make these major investments if they didn't think that luxury will be around long after we are gone.