For the past three years, after selling our summer ranges, we have made our annual pilgrimage to one of my favourite cities, New York, a city so rich in sophistication and diversity it’s little wonder it’s one of the world’s great fashion centres. New York has been home to some of the best and most luxurious department stores in the world for more than a century. Bloomingdale’s first opened its doors in New York in 1861. Macy’s first store in New York opened three years earlier. Bergdorf Goodman started on Fifth Avenue in 1899. The first SAKS Fifth Avenue opened in 1924.
Aside from my admiring the exquisite merchandised department stores and luxury vertical retailers, this year I found myself looking at some of the other fashion elements in the city; the hidden gems that aren’t yet in the tour guides.
Bernstein Display & Ralph Lauren Mansions
Strolling around the Fashion District, I stumbled across the Bernstein Display showroom down a side street. It is a visual merchandiser’s dream, filled to the brim with mannequins in bright colours, quirky arrangements and retail accessories that border on artist’s installations. I have quite often commented on the dedication to exceptional merchandising in the US. It has become an art form with the help of companies such as Bernstein Display. Australia simply has nothing like this. Bernstein Display’s history offers great lessons to retailers in every field: discover what you do well and do it better then everyone else.
Leo Bernstein opened a haberdashery shop in New York in 1899, procuring products to sell from auction houses. He soon found, though, that the store fixtures sold better, so he began working with local retailers and department stores providing hangers, racks, forms, mannequins, and sales tickets and tags. Legend has it that Ralph Lauren walked into the showroom in the 1970s and a 40-year relationship was born which has since launched over 4000 shops and 80,000 clothing forms. It’s a legend retold faithfully at bernsteindisplay.com, a compelling combination of art and marketing in its own right.
If you’ve visited Ralph Lauren Mansion Flagship stores on Madison Avenue in New York it’s easy to see how important merchandising displays are to this powerhouse global brand and how the partnership was forged. Together, they have put the word ‘inspire’ back into retailing.
Ralph Lauren Mansions Stores (Menswear Store)
867 Madison Avenue, New York
Ralph Lauren Mansions (Womenswear & Homewares)
888 Madison Ave, New York
Bernstein Display – Appointment Only
151 W 25th Street #1, New York
Off Broadway Boutique
New York embraces and celebrates the quirky, the eccentric – the characters who can find their own space and place in a city of 9 million. Individuality is enabled and catered for – everyone is a market to someone and age is no barrier. Think of the icons like Iris Apfel who at 93 still casts a giant shadow as her Vanity Fair interview in April 2015 attests, and prolific fashion photographer Bill Cunningham who, at 86, still chronicles New York. They are not alone.
Ari Cohen’s Advanced Style blog, book and documentary have highlighted older women as fashion icons and some of the best “Advanced Style” ladies in New York.
While Australian fashion designers pretend these customers don’t exist – as though being fashionable stops at 50 or, heaven forbid, 60 – or are embarrassed by this customer, New York caters specifically to this demographic. Advanced Style has featured one such store, run by the irrepressible Lynn Dell – the Countess of Fashion.
Make no mistake, Lynn Dell’s customers love being unique and love to dress up. You wont find any tracksuits in her Off Broadway Boutique, or anything that remotely says “I’ve given up on life”.
“You get one chance around, so go for it,” is Lynn’s life-affirming philosophy, which she readily passes on to her eclectic clientele, which includes some of the best-known names in film, TV, Broadway and opera.
The boutique, specialising in “glamour fashion for grown-up women”, far exceeds its promised offering of “a thousand ways to look fabulous at any age”. Off Broadway Boutique is situated on the Upper West side of Manhattan. It’s filled to the brim with exquisite clothing, vintage pieces, jewellery and accessories.
It’s a visual paradise. Lynn has owned the store for more than 40 years. Her sales manager, who has been with her for over 20 years, greets me warmly and quickly declares that Australian women are some of her biggest customers.
I purchased a pair of oversized sterling silver hoop earrings without hesitation – love at first sight is impulsive, after all. I could have spent hours there at the Off Broadway Boutique – any fashion lover could – even my husband found this fascinating.
Off Broadway Boutique: 139 W 72nd St, New York boutiqueoffbroadway.com
New York Vintage
New York Vintage is not your average vintage shop. This New York institution houses some of the America’s finest archive designer collections. All garments are impeccable, with special plastic coverings for protection against dust and time. Notes are often attached to pieces to highlight their history or significance, such as which celebrity wore which piece and when. They work closely with celebrity stylists and movie stars for red carpet events.
For consumers, New York Vintage has a 5,000 square foot private archive which is available for rent for red carpet and industry use. New York Vintage also houses some of the late Australian Mary Lipshut, founder of Meredith, who was an avid vintage couture collector and had an extensive never-worn vintage couture designer collections of Pucci & Missoni. Stepping inside New York Vintage’s Chelsea boutique will change your mind about vintage forever.
New York Vintage 117 W 25th St, New York newyorkvintage.com
Museum at FIT (Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology)
Mention museums and my eyelids become heavy but the Museum at FIT is different. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Museum at FIT is one of a select group of specialised fashion museums, an alumni which includes the Musée de la Mode, the Mode Museum and the Museo de la Moda. The museum holds some award-winning fashion exhibitions. Founded in 1969, it was installed in the current building in 1974, with exhibitions commencing in 1975.
In April 2015 a featured exhibition highlighted Counterfeits and Fakes. It was a small exhibition (I suspect they didn’t want to support fakes through the acquisition of illegal products) but included videos explaining counterfeiting and fakes, explaining exactly what to look out for in a fake right down to tiny details involved in the construction of a Chanel suit and a Louis Vuitton Speedy bag.
It was a fascinating sideline to a visit planned around the ‘Yves Saint Laurent & Halston Exhibition – Fashioning the 70s’.
It didn’t disappoint. While it seems every single fashion designer on the runway lately is channeling the 70s again, seeing these masterpieces from the famed Roy Halston, with his clean minimalist lines, and strong 70s appeal, as well as the masterpieces from Yves Saint Laurent, gives you an appreciation of what visionaries they really were.
More importantly, the exhibition offers you so much more information about this period that even die-hard fashionistas couldn’t help but learn something new.
The museum’s collections hold the Halston Archives—the most comprehensive records of his work in the world—as well as a vast array of significant Yves Saint Laurent pieces donated by important clients, fashion editors, friends and colleagues of Saint Laurent. Donors include Lauren Bacall, Marina Schiano, Aimée de Heeren, Mary Russell and Tina Chow.
The Museum at FIT
Seventh Avenue at 27th Street
About the Author
Phoebes Garland is a Features Writer for Exposed Online & co-owns Garland & Garland Fashion with Robert Garland, a leading fashion agency based in Sydney. Phoebes also owns Fashion Initiative, an online fashion destination covering business of fashion, luxury and events.
Described as a” Power Agent” by Ragtrader Magazine. Between the two of them, Phoebes & Robert Garland have over 50 years sales experience in fashion, publishing and advertising.
Phoebes is on the Advisory Board for Fashion Design Studio (Sydney Tafe) in 2014 and is an industry mentor to designers with industry body Australian Fashion Chamber amongst many others. Garland & Garland Fashion is a respected leading boutique fashion agency based in Sydney and they are regularly sought for comment from various media and the fashion industry on business fashion topics, fashion and issue.
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