By now, most of you members of the shopping public are aware of the contentious court battle between Macy's and J.C. Penney over Martha Stewart's Home Collection. Now, Martha has a long history of selling different products and product categories with retailers other than Macy's. She produces a line of carpets for FLOR, a number of furniture collections with Bernhardt, sold a lower-end line of paint and linens with K-Mart, and sells home office products through Staple's. It was only the J.C. Penney deal that would have infringed on Macy's, in which J.C. Penney was hoping to sell kitchen, bedroom and bath goods that would compete directly with Macy's. Martha's Home Collection is the anchor of "The Cellar" at Macy's, where the retailer offers up all of its tabletop, cookware and home goods from a variety of vendors. Martha's products are an essential draw that brings customers into this department nationwide.
So, what was Martha thinking? Did she think that Macy's needed her so badly that they would simply accept her actions? I don't know, but I would imagine that J.C. Penney's was offering a better cut of the profits, important as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's earnings are down. None the less, Martha has a history of making some strange choices. Who knows the psychology behind her self-destructive moves, (remember the insider trading conviction, and the ankle bracelet, which are hard to forget)? She has had such an enormous influence over late twentieth sensibilities, home aesthetics, and how we live that one would think that she could rest secure in her enduring legacy, but that doesn't seem to be part of her emotional make-up and drive. She also seems unable to understand that her actions create reactions. Did she actually think that Macy's would roll over?
Macy's Martha Stuart Collection direct mail
Ultimately, Macy's has won the Martha battle, and has handled the crisis in an interesting way. The whole court battle played out in the media, and was never a crisis that was acknowledged or communicated directly between Macy's and their customers. It was simply not addressed, and played out in the background. Now that the issue is resolved, Macy's has handled the win in a graceful way. Hence, the direct mail piece that arrived last week. It doesn't say, "Martha's still here," or "Martha's back." It merely reminds you to come and shop Martha's Home Collection at Macy's; with Martha herself featured front and center on the piece. Very classy brand management, I must say.
Anthropologie Regent Street's living plant wall, Image via www.businessoffashion.com
Major lifestyle and clothing retail chain Anthropologie, with over 147 stores in the U.S., and six in Canada, operates only two stores outside of North America—both in London. That’s a far cry from parent company Urban Outfitters, which racks up an impressive twenty-five UK locations, plus sixteen others throughout Western Europe. Catering to the universal teenaged fast-fashion set, Urban Outfitters has been able to easily make a name for itself within the European market. Anthropologie’s two London locations are fairly new, and are definitely an experiment for the brand. So why the “pessimistic economic predictions” on the opening of the London locations from Vogue.co.uk?
A love of heritage brands is ingrained in British sensibility—from the royal family to Liberty of London, which has maintained its position as England's premier department storesince 1875. Liberty is still selected each year by the readers of Time Out London as the top shopping destination in the UK. So as a faux-heritage brand, one wonders in what way Anthropologie will be able to find a place in a country with actual heritage. In the U.S, vintage is a longstanding trend, as shoppers and merchants either connect to our real shared past or fabricated an idealized sense of what it means to be an American. Hence the success of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, two brands that have constructed billion dollar businesses around the beauty and romance of what America never has been, but aspires to be.
So why bring a faux-heritage mall brand like Anthopologie to Britain? First off, their girlish, embellished, romantic clothes and lifestyle items do fit in well with how British woman dress, and live. A friend there recently told me that his mom and her friends are starting to flock to Anthropologie. These women "get" the brand. They want pretty, and decorative. On a certain level, it's also an investment brand, as this part of Americana does not come cheap. Antrhopologie is coming up against British high street brands with a more contemporary sensibility, so there may be a place for them in the market.
The last few times I've been in London, where fast fashion is a way of life, I stumbled into what appeared to be a chainlet named Company of Style, aka COS. Initially, I didn't know that the simple, pared down designs and palette at COS was the work of a new brand design studio at H & M.
It turns out that COS is H & M's foray into a higher price point, although most items are still priced under $100.00 and thus very accessible for what seems to be well-made, streamlined design. Their tagline is Timeless, Modern, Tactile and Functional, and I have to admit that I'm seduced by this brand. I really feel that they got it right — it's very strong, controlled brand management, and is a concept that will do well no matter where it travels. The store design, by William Russell of Pentagram, London (love them! I loved working with Michael Beirut from Pentagram in the past), and his angular, restrained store design and layout brings the architectural quality of the clothing to life. Other retailers should heed how well H & M is managing and rolling out this brand. The store has already opened in 51 stores in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden, of course. They have also just opened their first shop in Asia.
Of course, I'm awaiting their entry into the US market, where their brand of chic simplicity at an affordable price point will play very well in urban and exurban centers. C'mon over, COS!
Macys' is making some upscale and perhaps curious choices in their selection of limited collection designers for their Impulse shops. First up was Karl Lagerfeld, then CFDA winner doo.ri, and now Alberta Ferretti. I would say that in these designers are connected in that they are all upscale, kind of dressy, refined, and polished. I was very curious about the Lagerfeld collection and hightailed it over to Macy's very soon after its release into stores only to find that hundreds of pieces remained on the racks at the Herald Square store. Hmmm. So I queried the sales staff at length, who said that the collection did not sell well at all. They said that neither the design nor fabrication worked. When I went back some weeks later the collection was in serious markdown.
Why no ka-ching ka-ching? And why these designers? What is the decision behind the choice to associate the egalitarian Macy's brand with designers who are upscale (that we understand) and slightly unknown by main street USA (doo.ri and Ferretti)? Limited edition capsule collections are meant to reinforce a store's prestige, help the retailer gain traction with new audiences (consumers who might not normally connect with Macy's, for example), and to create a sense of urgency in the buying experience, so that it drives any curious and/or interested traffic to the brick and mortar stores and to the website.
Then there is Macy's association with the new Fashion Star show. Ack! The fashion on the show is awful, but it's a great PR move, and is definitely driving sales. According to Women’s Wear Daily, the three retailers associated with the store are really pleased with sales as the items from the show are selling out. So here we are again in the realm of high/low, which any readers of my blog know is one of my major interests. What's working better for Macy's? Lagerfeld (advertised and promoted traditionally) or Miss No-Name Designer (with millions of viewers and panelists like Jessica Simpson and Nicole Ritchie)? I would LOVE to see those sales numbers!
This morning when I was walking to work I saw, to my surprise, that H & M is opening a store on the Fulton Mall here in Brooklyn, right down the block from my studio. Hmmm, I thought, this is getting interesting. The Fulton Mall is turning into another version of East 86th Street, that outdoor uptown shopping “mall” on the Upper East Side. In a real harbinger of what’s to come, Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack also opened about a month ago, which is also the best and upscale fast food option anchoring the shopping area on 86th Street.
For many years now the Fulton Mall has been perceived as an inner city shopping non-destination. Even the presence of Macy’s, situated in the landmarked Abraham & Strauss building, had no effect on the mix of low-end retailers, fried fish joints and MacDonald-like food options that line the street. Meanwhile, Atlantic Avenue in Cobble Hill has gentrified fairly extensively in the past five years, and is a mere three block walk from the Mall. Now the neighborhood seems to be experiencing a seismic shift. The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC), Fulton Street Mall Improvement Association (FMIA) and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) have recently completed the $15 million Fulton Streetscape Project as well, so that the street looks cleaner, more contemporary, and altogether more pleasant. It turns out that the Mall attracts 100,000 shoppers per day, meaning that people are dropping quite a bit of coin. Future tenants include Sephora and Aeropostale just opened, completing the sense of having shopped the same brands, in the same order, but on another street.
I have to admit that I’m not unhappy with the impending homogenization of my working neighborhood. It seemed inevitable, with the Mall situated between Fort Greene (which has shown a higher increase in residential property value than any other neighborhood in Brooklyn), Cobble Hill, and Brooklyn Heights, long considered to be Brooklyn’s Gold Coast. Some may see it as the continued march of big brands wiping out the nighborhood individuality, but I have to admit that I do love those Shake Shack burgers.