“It’s like a boutique as a department store.”
Saks Fifth Avenue president, Marc J. Metrick, is telling me this as we wander the chain’s soon-to-be-opened lower Manhattan outpost, the hum of last-minute construction buzzing just outside the windows, all of which are papered up before the big reveal on Friday. “This location is unlike any of our others.”
Seated in New York City’s Brookfield Place mall (and, quite conveniently for this editor, right next door to the Time Inc. offices), the three-flight fashion playground features all open-floor layouts, modern lines, and neutral colors, accented by playful flourishes, like monkey sculptures and extra tall mannequins with elongated proportions that rival that of Karlie Kloss. After a few minutes, I notice we've been walking along an elegantly curved path, and a nearby PR girl explains that the store's floor plan is actually circular. “There are a lot of little side spaces, though, so the layout lends itself to discovery.”
And, oh, how much there is to discover! With a thoughtful mix of both established houses (such as Balenciaga, Lanvin, and Marc Jacobs) and rising stars (Tanya Taylor, MSGM, and Public School, to name a few), the selection highlights this season's most stand-out options. Distracted every few steps by something I suddenly cannot live without, I begin thinking that this must be what the inside of a street style star's closet looks like: every item clearly handpicked by someone with impeccable taste. In this case, that would be Tracy Margolies, Saks's chief merchant (and the brains behind the Fifth Avenue flagship's legendary shoe department), who helped the store not only shake up its roster of labels but also its merchandising methods. "We want our customers to get a full spectrum experience from our designers," she tells me, pointing out that, instead of the old-school method of separating product by category (leather goods, ready-to-wear, etc), items are grouped by brand.
This includes buzzy streetwear label Vetements's entire fall collection—which, I'm told with more than a few triumphant smiles, has been secured for Saks Downtown exclusively—shown on elevated rolling racks behind the jewelry counter as an art installation; as each style sells out, it will be replaced by a garment bag to illustrate how quickly stock is depleting. So do I have to ask a sales associate every time I was want to try a piece on? In the interest of practicality, there will be another rack, with additional sizes for browsing downstairs; only the very last piece of the run will be pulled from the main display.
These types of one-of-kind, interactive experiences, Metrick assures me, are intrinsic to what is going to make Saks Downtown a shopping destination for style influencers. “Our customer isn’t one thing—she has a downtown state-of-mind. She could live uptown, work nearby, or be passing through New York for the weekend.” Wherever she’s coming from, though, he hopes she’ll take take advantage of the shop’s Fifth Avenue Club, which comprises five private rooms on the top floor where any and all shoppers can take personal shopping appointments (including a 60-minute “Power Lunch”—complete with food and an express beauty treatment—designed to be squeezed into a busy work hours). Other amenities to get excited about: same-day delivery from the “Saks at Your Service Mercedes-Benz Sprinter,” and the “Saks Save Me" hotline, manned by specialists to navigate your sartorial emergencies by phone and email (646-344-6400 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
As our tour wraps, I glimpse back at the sprawling shoe section, tables dotted with every type of footwear you could ever dream of (plus some you simply must see to believe) and plush seashell pink armchairs to lounge in during a long try-on session. Save for a few men in hard hats and a woman with a clipboard and headset flitting around, the room is totally empty. That won’t last for long.
Visit Saks Downtown from Friday, Sept. 9, at 225 Liberty Place, New York, New York, 10286. Store hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.