By Regina Connell.
One of the other questions I get asked a lot (other than the one about the home) is “what’s the iconic AltLuxe lifestyle (not just clothing) store?”
There are some stores that kind of qualify. Maybe Barney’s with its hard to find brands and strong point of view, though there’s a coldness to it, and their home goods section constantly seems to struggle from a taste perspective. There’s Bergdorf Goodman, but it’s just a smaller mainstream department store with really great buyers. In London there’s Liberty, with its strong though slightly inconsistent POV. Maybe Dover Street Market in London (can’t say about the NY store yet), in a limited way.
My choice for the retail icon is the dear, departed, sorely missed New York outpost of Japanese retail giant Takashimaya. Now, I’m not one of those people who loves to live in the past and talk about how things were so great then not now blah blah blah – so it kills me to have to point backwards, but it is what it is: the iconic AltLuxe store no longer exists, and that is sad indeed.
Takashimaya – TK as a friend called it – was/is the embodiment of AltLuxe. It breathed soul and seduction. It breathed subtle luxe and intimacy.
First off, the store was small: no sprawling real estate that you have to pack with crap merchandise. (Never underestimate the twisted things that too much real estate will do for a retailer.) Small is good, particularly today, when inventories can be online.
But beyond that, there was the experience.
You walked in to the most gorgeous flower store – opulent, over the top flowers, “eccentric” foliage and accessories courtesy of Christian Tortu. There were the luscious, clearly bespoke fixtures – metalwork in particular – that graced the space throughout, and an internal stairway –the kind usually painted an institutional beige – that was painted a shade of deep red I still dream of.
The meticulously curated beauty department broke all the rules: it was on an upper floor, in a dark grey/blue room (not glaring white as seems to be the retail rule) and sold not a single Estee Lauder-owned brand. It was an utterly seductive oasis – nay, cocoon – of calm.
On an upper floor were glorious minimalist clothes from designers I’d only read about in non-US versions of Vogue, but hadn’t really seen much of in the US … and across the way was lovely artisanal, graceful jewelry.
It was my go-to place for wedding gifts (yes despite the fact I live in California): lovely porcelain homeware and accessories with that delicious wabisabi-luxe vibe (from a mix of Japanese and French makers) that is both so classic and so now.
My favorite floor was one for travelers and urban types with everything from raincoats to bags to wallets (many actually affordable for impulse buys), mostly in black. I could have lived on that floor.
In the basement was a bijou restaurant with the most soothing, flawless service you can imagine. I used to hustle off my flight to make it there before closing times. One time I even dragged my suitcase in there: they just smiled, stowed it, then returned it to me sans the stain it had acquired in the back of the cab.
I remember it for some great buys: the perfume that had men stopping me in the street to ask what it was and where they could buy it; my first real buy of jewelry, the go-to pair of baroque pearl earrings that went with everything till I left them somewhere; and most memorably, a little girl’s first alligator bag: green, fuzzy, cuddly, and with a matching coin purse. (I must say I got some looks on the plane as I schlepped it home but I didn’t care.)
I’m not the only one who felt this way: most of my friends reported doing pilgrimages to Takashimaya whenever they were in NY, and would sigh. Words like sublime would be used.
It closed in June, 2010. While it was beloved, there obviously weren’t enough of us Takashimaya acolytes to make economic sense, and the merchandise always turned a bit more slowly than it should even during the good years. But it may have just been ahead of its time: it was around in the blingy 90s and 00s, and the taste level may have appealed only to a barely nascent AltLuxe taste and tribe.
It was also on the most expensive strip of real estate in the world, AND it wasn’t online. While NOTHING could replace the in-store experience, I could see how it would be my go-to place online, based on its hard to get merchandise and exquisite curation. I could absolutely see it thriving online.
Now, what will you find in the glorious building that was inhabited by Takashimaya? Forever21, which epitomizes the crassness and trash that’s the polar opposite of TK. It’s a knife to the heart, I tell you. As a comment reads on the NY Citysearch site on the closing of TK, “Forever21, please die a slow and penniless death.” Amen sistah.
Takashimaya, come back, if not to NY then to LA or SF. And if not that … then perhaps a savvy retailer could take a few pages from the taste, ethos, and style? We would welcome you with open arms. Your tribe awaits.