The Future of Retail: Now What?

Bergdorf Goodman

We all know the terrible toll the pandemic has taken on fashion, retail, and the luxury market. The big question going forward is whether customers will begin shopping with a vengeance, or will they have decided they can do with much less after all? It is evident that online shopping has taken over from retail and will continue to do so. It is more convenient, and it is safer than going into a physical store.

That being said, retail is not necessarily dead. Renowned retail trend forecaster Steve Dennis once famously remarked: “Physical retail isn’t dead.  Boring retail is”.

Geraldine Stutz standing in Henri Bendel’s Street of Shops

I would love to see a resurgence in specialty shops like Bendel, Barneys, Charivari, Linda Dresner, and Henri Bendel, which was transformed into a chic emporium of designer brands by Geraldine Stutz in the 60’s. In their heyday in the ’70s and ’80s, these meccas defined the age of adventurous shopping and created retail magic with their surprising selections and exciting environments.

Browns of London

The ability to create an exciting shopping experience and introduce young avant-garde talent put Browns of London on the map. Joan Burstein and her husband founded Browns in 1970. She discovered everyone from Karl Lagerfeld and Norma Kamali, to Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Christopher Kane, and Giorgio Armani and brought Ralph Lauren to London. Several years ago, in an interview with The Business of Fashion, the retail pioneer criticized retailers for lacking individuality and stocking the same designers.

The Pressman family made periodic trips to Browns in the ’70s, according to Freddie Lieba, whose first job in fashion was working for Mrs. Burstein. They were so inspired by what they saw; they used Browns as a model for Barneys.

Dover Street Market NYC
Photo: Connie Zhou

One store in Manhattan that is doing something exciting now is Dover Street Market New York, which opened in 2014. The 20,000 square foot former women’s school was completely transformed according to Rei Kawakubo’s vision, and it does not resemble any other retail outpost in Manhattan. Even their unusual location, Murray Hill, is brilliantly counter-intuitive.

Nordstrom New York Flagship

Vicky Tiel recently polled several women and asked them to name their favorite stores. Topping the list is Nordstrom’s. Veteran retailer Nicole Fischelis, who has her own consulting firm, said that she is very impressed with the culture of the employee at Nordstrom’s. Their sales associates are cultured, charming, inviting, and knowledgeable. They are clearly doing something right.

Freddie Leiba & Nicole Fischelis

Ms. Fischelis is credited with having brought designers such as McQueen, Mugler, Montana, Lacroix, and Castelbajac to the United States when she was the fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue in the ’90s. “The biggest problem with retailers is that they often talk from two sides of their mouth. On one side, they want to be innovative, and on the other side, they want to make money, and they don’t want to invest in new talent. As a retailer, you need a percentage of new designers, not just a little rack with five pieces that get lost in a department. The stores don’t have the budget to do this.”

Vicki Tiel

Ms. Tiel is the longest-running American/French designer. She has been making couture for 64 years. She envisions large stores either converting to condos or renting out their boutiques to different designers. Each boutique will be a separate unit. The fashion director will relinquish creative control. Quirky, unusual, expressive fashion will be the style of the future.

“This epidemic has put a bullet through planet earth. It’s a wake-up bullet that will change how we live, communicate, and dress. It is the beginning of a transformation and will change humanity. It will force people to emphasize health and happiness as opposed to money.” – Vicki Tiel

Smaller stores might find large warehouses and turn them into antique shopping experiences. A few malls will survive, but there will be fewer stores. Vicky had a talk with the owner of one of the largest malls in the country several years ago. At that time, he was already beginning to turn stores into hospitals, spiritual and wellness centers, with older people in mind.

Many women in the Hudson area where Tiel has a home belong to crafts groups. They buy supplies at Michaels online, and they make vases and other things, Michaels is a North American company specializing in supplies for arts & crafts, picture frames, and almost everything else.

They are so busy these days that when you go on their website, they say that due to high demand, orders placed for home delivery might be delayed. Vicky feels strongly that the pride of making something, being creative, being happy and healthy will become more critical than merely trying to impress others with a fancy shoe or fancy bag.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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