Months before Barneys New York closed its high-end doors for good, the New York-based retailer shuttered its Rittenhouse Square location under the cloak of night, depriving shoppers of a customary liquidation sale and owing real estate developer and City Councilman Allan Domb months in back rent.
But despite what some in the industry have suggested, this headline-making shopping drama doesn’t mean that luxury is dead (just as the sudden end of Zac Posen’s designer collection earlier this month isn’t a haute harbinger that we no longer like nice things). It is, however, evidence of my budding theory that the demise of national retailers is merely making room for local businesses, in and of itself reflective of a shift in how and why we consume the finer things in life.
Just look at the opportunities that blossomed for local entrepreneurs after Barneys left Rittenhouse: Danuta “Dana” Mieloch will move her cozy and uber-plush Rescue Spa to the prominent 1800 block of Walnut Street — more than double that of her old space.
“I took less rent in this space because I wanted to attract a local, homegrown luxury brand like Rescue,” Domb told me Tuesday afternoon. “Luxury is a lifestyle. It’s about how people live, not what people have."
Boyds, seeing an opportunity to bring shoppers curious about emerging fashion brands into its newly renovated space, will offer store credit to shoppers with worthless Barneys gift cards. Once they’re lured in, owner Kent Gushner wants Barneys shoppers to fall in love with the store’s local brand collaborations — like the one with artist King Saladeen. The eventual goal, Gushner said, is to treat shoppers to a more inclusive atmosphere, complete with trunk shows and personal shopping events.
“Luxury is far from dead,” Gushner said. “What’s happening is the boundaries of luxury are being repositioned a bit. The world is changing. We are changing with it. ”
Three blocks east of the old Barneys, another Philadelphia-based brand, Govberg Jewelers, signed a lease replacing the former Under Armour store.
And while the shoe store AllBirds isn’t a local brand, it has eco-friendly roots, a hallmark of new luxury, and will replace Timberland on the 1700 block of Walnut Street.
“Before, we saw more of the multi-brand prestige store and boutiques,” explained Corie Moskow, executive director of Rittenhouse Row. “We still have those, but we are also seeing the growth of homegrown prestige brands. Philadelphians look at luxe with a holistic view. Invest in quality, a good experience, a pleasant connection and value.”
The reason why we shop luxury is shifting, too, as customers move away from status-shopping to shopping for joy.
That’s me. Because if anything has been true of late, it’s that I realize I have enough stuff. What I need is time — there is never enough — and peace of mind.
“Luxury is about personal happiness and contentment and people don’t get happy by only buying new things," said Pam Danziger, principal of Unity Marketing, the Harrisburg-based luxury marketing firm. Danziger’s firm recently published Luxury: The Business of Happiness. “We get happy doing things. It’s about the anticipation of happiness. Luxury is now the business of happiness.”
With the closing of Barneys and what feels like the chronic downsizing of department stores, smaller luxury brands have been connecting with their communities on Instagram. As they shift from cyber business to brick and mortar, entire neighborhoods are transforming.
Last month designer Banni Peru, who has made clothing for rappers Fabolous, Teyana Taylor, and Lil’ Kim, opened a new store on West Philadelphia’s 52nd Street.
Philadelphia Fashion Incubator designer Amy Voloshin, who is known for her soft womenswear eclectic pieces, opened a Kensington showroom last fall. And American Trench cofounder Jacob Hurwitz of Ardmore is building a name for himself with $800 trench coats and $1,000 parkas — things that can be used every day.
“We’ve really seen a shift in what American luxury is," Hurwitz said. “And we were able to be a part of the shift because, like a lot of disruptive brands, I put my limited resources into making my trench coats and socks really well and then used the internet to help me spread the information.”
There was a time when local jewelry designer Carla Eichler wanted to have her Lotasi Jewels placed in Barneys. But after building a brand on Instagram and having trunk shows in boutiques like Shop Sixty-Five, she decided that her bread and butter was in big, precious stones she turned into baubles she can personalize.
“With the new luxury, things are delivered to your door. Picked for you, modified for you,” Eichler said. “That is what collectors love.”
Burberry and now Barneys might be gone. But as we go into this holiday shopping season, know that luxury is still alive in Philadelphia. You just have to be creative in how you define it.
“Change is not always bad, and the sky isn’t always falling,” Moskow said. “Sometimes our next big thing is around the corner, and if you support the next big thing the way you support Lagos, and Govberg, and Rescue, and Boyds, you will see more good things ... more luxurious things.”