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Mirror, Mirror: Century 21, discount delight

Let's not blow it, Philadelphia: Time to shop. You've dreamed of this cornucopia of New York designer riches.

A sign along Market Street announces the Century 21 store opening in The Gallery. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
A sign along Market Street announces the Century 21 store opening in The Gallery. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)Read more

When Philadelphia's Century 21 department store opens Oct. 23 at Eighth and Market Streets, walls of discounted designer perfumes from Burberry to Marc Jacobs will greet shoppers, just like in its New York flagship.

Behind the scents will be the affordable handbags, where a swirly-print Kate Spade tote beckons. On the ground floor, tucked between Enzo Angiolini pumps and Isaac Mizrahi kitten heels, there will be a glorious pair of gold patent leather Mary Jane wedges by Céline.

On the 96,000-square-foot store's second floor, we'll have Lanvin, check, Missoni, check, Jil Sander, check. And a fitted, pin-striped Moschino blazer trimmed with red floral ribbon, double check.

The men's department will be packed with Armani, Brioni, and Versace suits. And in the children's section, there will be enough soft Petit Lem and Absorba onesies to make Kanye and Kim's little North envious.

This is the kind of shopping that persnickety Philadelphians used to dream about as they said with such disdain, "I only shop in New York." Save your Amtrak money, ladies. The styles at our Century 21 will separate the casual shopper from the fashion insider.

"We are going to open our [Philadelphia] store with the same merchandise that's in our flagship store in New York," Century 21's co-owner and executive vice president Eddie Gindi recently told me. "We are going to put our best foot forward there."

But don't blow it, people. Gindi also said he was still learning the Philadelphia market, and offerings will be altered based on how we shop.

That means - and read closely, any style-challenged readers - it's time to shop, y'all. And not just for Eagles green T-shirts and ratty jeans. I'm talking Maison Martin Margiela dressy sweatpants.

Here's the deal: With a $10 million investment, it's not as if Century 21 will close its doors if we fail to shop on point. But you can bet your Tory Burch flats that the divine collection of Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses sold in New York - and for the time being, here - will slowly disappear if we don't purchase, and purchase well.

This is the first store in the company's 53-year history to open outside the New York metropolitan area. And it's come to our historic streets right when our retail scene is opening a spate of national stores that also offer of-the-moment looks at discount prices. (Century 21 gets its designer merch a number of ways: as overruns, from a month to a few seasons later than boutiques, or on season because of exclusive deals made directly with designers.)

Uniqlo, the Japanese brand heralded for affordable basics, opened at 16th and Chestnut Streets last month. Nordstrom Rack is set to cut the ribbon at its three-story, 39,000-square-foot space on the corner of 17th and Chestnut, in the old Daffy's building, on Oct. 24.

On Thursday, Forever 21 announced plans to move into the former Dress Barn storefront at 1708 Chestnut, and there still are rumors that Neiman Marcus Last Call may sign on as an anchor tenant in the Shops at Liberty Place by year's end.

Oh, the pressure. We've got a lot of holiday shopping to do.

For the time being, Center City's Century 21 is trying to position itself as the only place in town for fashionistas who long to dress in head-to-toe Gucci at 40 to 60 percent off department-store prices.

To build buzz, on Wednesday Century 21 will place a rack at the Comcast Center filled with fashions that will be available in the store. There, as well as at the store, people also can sign up for "C21" status, allowing them to shop during the week leading up to the official ribbon-cutting set for the morning of Oct. 28.

In addition to women's, men's, and children's fashions, the store will include a 5,000-square-foot home section with dinnerware from Lenox and 350-thread-count sheets from Pratesi.

Two LED screens will frame the store's Gallery mall entrance at Ninth Street, featuring Century 21 fashions styled by Philadelphia bloggers such as Ian Michael Crumm and Leah Kauffman.

But these are the looks of high-fashion bloggers who dress to be seen. Does Gindi have faith in the everyday dresser who wants merely to look nice for an evening at the Kimmel?

After five trips to Philadelphia, Gindi says, he's sure his customer is here.

"I think that Philadelphians know fashion, they appreciate fashion," Gindi said. "There is that comment that Philadelphians don't want to get dressed up. I don't know about that. But they don't want to sacrifice a trip to a good restaurant for fashion's sake."

Please, let's prove him right.