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Mirror, Mirror: As Rittenhouse district transforms into an epicenter of style

Vince quietly opened its Philadelphia doors early last week with racks of signature cashmere sweaters, maxi dresses, and leather-trimmed denim.

The new Vince, part of the transformation of the Rittenhouse shopping district.
The new Vince, part of the transformation of the Rittenhouse shopping district.Read more

Vince quietly opened its Philadelphia doors early last week with racks of signature cashmere sweaters, maxi dresses, and leather-trimmed denim.

The New York brand, known for its perfect-for-work minimalism, joins Walnut Street's Theory and Intermix in offering on-the-cusp-of-luxury basics to casual-leaning Philadelphians.

However, more noteworthy than Vince's takeover of the Juicy Couture storefront is that its arrival marks the first of several late-2014 openings likely to transform the Rittenhouse shopping district - between Broad and 20th Streets along the Walnut and Chestnut corridors - into a style epicenter.

That's not to say Prada will open here anytime soon. But that's OK because, by December, an eclectic mix of national chains coupled with stores helmed by Philadelphia entrepreneurs who have a passion for local manufacturing will be open for business. And this high-low blend reflects how people really shop. Philadelphians are nothing if not real, even when it comes to fashion.

"The best way to describe the emerging fashion personality is it's a little schizophrenic," said Julie Davis, the Philadelphia editor of newsy shopping website "There is no cut-and-dry formula to who's coming and going. It's all over the map."

Ain't that the truth?

The changes, and rumors surrounding them, are dizzying. Dealmakers are excited but tight-lipped about what's to come, as brands want to enter the market quietly and maintain their fashion mystique - Who are they? What are they about? Calypso St. Barth, for example, slipped its year-round resort store onto the 1600 block of Walnut Street with barely a peep.

By year's end, these other retailers will have a Philadelphia zip code: On Walnut, Goorin Bros. Hat Shop will replace MAC Cosmetics at 1427. (MAC has a temporary space in the Gallery for now.) In the 1700 block, Michael Kors is opening a boutique in the former Burberry space. Vans sneaker store is taking over Jacques Ferber's street-level store; Ferber will move above it. And Timberland will open across the street.

"We are gaining traction with national brands," said Michelle Shannon, vice president of marketing and communications with the Center City District. "We have such a good mix of intro-to-luxury brands right now. We are filling a variety of needs."

On Chestnut Street, where rent has increased 30 percent since last year, several national retailers are in the pipeline, too. They include Japanese fast-fashion brand Uniqlo, as well as Nordstrom Rack. It is rumored that Forever 21 will open where Dressbarn once cornered the age-appropriate market.

The Shops at Liberty Place on Chestnut will welcome Destination Maternity from Walnut Street. There's also talk that Neiman Marcus Last Call will open in the Shops. A Nordstrom Rack across the street from a Neiman Marcus outlet store? Talk about some serious fashion deals.

Although they are merely relocating, the moves of Duke & Winston, Joan Shepp, and Knit Wit to Chestnut are significant because, with Boyds Philadelphia, they help maintain a boutiquey vibe on the street.

With all this growth along the main corridors, developers and real estate agents are starting to focus on the numbered streets that connect Chestnut, Sansom, and Walnut, said Douglas Green, principal of MSC Realty.

Alex & Ani, the Rhode Island jewelry company, will replace Plage Tahiti on South 17th Street. And Philadelphia designer Liz Rymar will move ellelauri, her made-in-America brand of work-appropriate clothes for women, to South 19th Street from its temporary spot in the Shops at Liberty Place.

"We wanted to be close to Boyds and the new Joan Shepp store," Rymar said. "We want to take advantage of being near homegrown businesses on Chestnut Street, but get the foot traffic from Walnut Street."

Fashionistas are welcoming Philadelphia's newfound retail coolness with open arms, partly because many people never really got over the loss of our major department stores Bonwit Teller in 1990 and then Strawbridge & Clothier about 10 years ago. Plus, two years ago, when iconic boutiques Joan Shepp and Knit Wit moved off Walnut Street because of ballooning rents, fashion morale was at its worse.

Today, the mix is a good reflection of what we buy. With core Center City dwellers earning $107,000 a year, according to the Center City District's latest figures, that means they aren't likely to drop $5,000 on a purse. But they may spend $300 on a Theory dress.

Green summed it up:

"We don't have the dollars you find in cities where the economy is driven by finance," he said. "But our customer is value- and trend-conscious. In Philadelphia, she can have an on-trend experience without breaking her bank."

And that's truly Philly style.