Tuesday, October 30, 2018

No Holds Barred: That’s Fashion!

by Blair Sabol

Granted, not every store was the merchandising monster of Sears
— but consuming hits all levels.  The culture is in a retail seismic shift (as is the world) and stores lose their popularity — that’s fashion!  That’s life!  Last year Macy’s almost jumped the shark. So did Saks. Even J.Crew was rumored “a goner.”  Time will tell.

Meanwhile endings are happening everywhere — I am still contemplating The Carlyle Hotel “jumper” who committed suicide over the theft of more than a million dollars in wine.  Talk about a bad retail result.
The most important question is what becomes of the actual Sears real estate?  All those huge fortresses that were anchors to so many old malls; do they become assisted livings? (The next big business).

Recently while in LA, I was appalled to see the ghost-like energy of downtown Beverly Hills. What used to be a “miracle half mile” of luxe shopping (between Rodeo Drive and Camden and Canon) now feels faded and looks like an aging movie star with bad lipstick application. 
Even popular landmark deli Nate n’ Al’s (rumored to close) resembles a tragic empty storefront.  Beverly Hills has had many facelifts — but sometimes it takes more than plastic and mortar to repair an entire era gone by.  It doesn’t even exude vintage appeal anymore.  The bus loads of Chinese tourists (serious shoppers) are gone and Neiman’s and Barneys are now empty morgues.  Sadly the shopping flag is at half-mast in Beverly Hills.
There's always their "New York" pastrami sandwich!
But there are some signs of new life coming from the sad world of shopping, like the Grove in Hollywood.  A bustling phenomenon of village décor, shopping, eating, movies ... and walking.  It has Nordstrom and the usual small name stores — but most of all it has a pulse.  And unlike the once popular Beverly Center, which sits up the street (a victim of the demise of malls), Century City has revived itself with newer stores, better movie theatres and the ever popular market and restaurant Eataly on the roof.  My problem with Beverly or Century City is once I have to triple decker park I am lost and gone.  But Californians are used to tough parking.   
The Place in LA: Terra at Eataly.
However there is a new shopping star on the horizon in Pacific Palisades called “The Village.”  Created by the same Grove developing dynamo Rick Caruso.

Rick Caruso — looks like the mayor to me!
PHOTO BY STEVE COHN
Caruso is known for creating Disneyland merchandising environments that seem like small towns.  He understands that shopping has to be “an experience” (a hideously overused word in retail of late).  His philosophy is that people now long for the pleasure of “gathering” and congregating ... then they make their purchases.  They also (especially in Los Angeles) come for a feeling of “neighborhood” — a town square (real LA has none of that) also to look and actually “see” something other than their handheld device.

Caruso has indeed created The Village in super upscale Pacific Palisades neighborhood — right down to the streetlights and cobblestones to match the overall Hamptons/Nantucket décor of the P.P. style.  As the Wall Street Journal said of Caruso: “He aims to make ‘mall’ more than a 4 letter word.”

And so he has by doing lush plantings, old elegant jazz background music, and limiting it to 30 small-scale retail shops (even Sephora is only opening a “modest studio” for makeup application rather than their usual super store).  This is a locale where shoppers “browse” rather than completing errands.  And by the way, most of the vendors are local talent and live in the Palisades.
Instagram photo wall at The Village — Pacific Palisades.
Caruso himself is interesting — a 59-year-old native billionaire developer who opened The Grove to great success in 1992 and was even rumored to be running for office (Mayor?  Governor?  Doesn’t everyone in LA run for office?).  He certainly has the personal charisma.  Fifteen years ago I was waiting for my car at The Grove valet desk when I saw the huge black deluxe SUV roll up and a handsome, lean, tanned great looking guy jumped out in perfect choreography wearing a seriously tailored black suit with red lining.  He had that Sinatra/Rat Pack aura.  He tossed his car keys high over his car to the parking attendant and fled without a ticket.  The valets all swooned and greeted him with fist bumps and thumbs up.  When I asked who he was, they assured me, “He’s the Man!!  He’s Caruso, the guy that made this whole world!” (Meaning The Grove ... but it IS a world).  Clearly – a shopping super hero was born.
Goodbye Loehmann’s, Hello 333 La Cienega!
Now Caruso is working on rebooting the old Beverly Hills Loehmann’s  store  (If anyone can resuscitate Beverly Hills, it is Caruso) and a hotel in flooded and landslide ravaged Montecito.  Clearly he can make a stage set out of almost anything.  And Los Angeles LOVES its “stagings.”

I had exactly 20 minutes to check out “The Sades” Village and frankly, it was just enough time.  It doesn’t require a long afternoon of “shopping.”  Parking is tricky because it is in a busy small section of town so not too many triple-decker parking garages (that would ruin the look).  What was obvious is the amount of foot traffic present – whether it was babies and moms in their SUV strollers, vast numbers of dog walkers (dog water bowls are everywhere) or tons of elders on walkers with their assistants.  Everybody was out and about winding their way around a small square.  It felt like there were more eateries and greeneries and sitting areas than stores (Caruso says he wants the “green space” for local concerts and civic functions).
Stretching and dancing at the Fitness Series in The Park.
Children at play in the newest addition at The Park.
The Park is dog friendly, too.
Gathering amongst the Greenery and Eateries ...
There were no food courts, escalators or giant concrete performing platforms with intrusive sound systems.  There were clean and beautiful unisex bathrooms with real flowers.  I really didn’t care about the stores — they all looked like pop-up storefronts.  You could walk in and walk out in seconds — though all of it was beautifully appointed.  I figured a great pet or kids store was somewhere but I didn’t find either.  I did see LA stylist Rachel Zoe’s first store (at least it wasn’t a Kardashian boutique) which had very little stock and likewise with LA Jeweler Jennifer Meyer, known for her tiny expensive gold designs.  The entire place has that Gwyneth Paltrow “Goop” flavor of simple “Laid back LA chic” — very fresh flowers and white walls but again no product “POW”!
Stylist Rachel Zoe’s first store.
Local Jeweler Jennifer Meyer.
My favorite was the general store feeling of the Soda Fountain and the multi screen movie theatre done to look like an old time cinema.  The theatre banner read, “Where the Stars Meet the Sea.”  No Kidding.  The Village’s opening party was celebrity packed with neighborhood homeowners like John Legend, Charlize Theron and Brian Glazer all busy hosting.  That was over a month ago.  The place has been jammed ever since.  It is shopping Hollywood style.  Fake and Fun.  All under the humanizing theme of “It takes a Village.”  I guess ersatz neighborhood retail rules even if it costs over 200 million to build (“If you build it, he will come.” should be a Caruso mantra).
Multi-screen 1940’s era movie theatre at The Village.
 "If you build it, he will come." 
One of the major features of The Village experience are the “photo op” areas — gorgeously flowered walls, vintage benches — some sculpture and 1940’s looking storefronts.  After all, who is really “shopping” anymore.  Aren’t we just taking our selfies for the world to see and believe we are spending frivolously where “the stars” live?!
Even the delivery doors at The Village are stylized.
The Village sculpture — a 9-foot-tall, 1,000-pound sculpture called Steadfast. According to Caruso, "Steadfast will be standing there in appreciation of this community for what you all represent."
The same week of Caruso’s Village opening brilliant feminist writer Camille Paglia published (ironically in the Hollywood Reporter) her astute words on “Instagram Exhibitionism — and why it hurts women.”  I watched a few young girls at the Village; with their phones taking selfie close ups of their cleavage and ass cheeks in their high cut denim shorts.  I wondered, are we in a manufactured 1940 Village Square shopping “experience” and the bare-all social photo media continues non-stop.  As Paglia states: “these digital sexual images in Instagram, Snapchat and Tinder are both a boon and a curse — sharpening self definition yet intensifying social anxieties and risking physical safety via hyper sexualized self advertisement and fantasy.” 
The sign reflects the times.
I suddenly realized — forget shopping.  Just sending a booty pic from The Village is reason to go in the first place!  Hooray for Hollywood!