Thursday, October 9, 2014


I have for a long time considered myself a Banana Republic kind of guy, a bit conservative but stylish enough to feel comfortable throwing a scarf around my neck in summer when its only purpose is to add a bit of fashion flair. Being an interior and furniture designer you approach everything as if it needs a little fluffing. Do these colors work together? Should the carpet match the drapes? Can you serve Chinese food straight from the container or do you need to get out the serving bowls when you've got guests? The eye never stops looking and the mind never stops churning out makeovers and facelifts.
When I'm walking down the street I've always got an eye to the designing of the department store display windows, the crowds of sophisticates and eccentrics walking in the opposite direction, and the architectural details dripping off the tops of buildings lining the street. I've only peripherally been watching the renovation of Club Monaco on lower Fifth Avenue, as I said I was more a Banana Republic kinda guy...until now.
J. Crew may have positioned themselves as being a little more preppie, Banana Republic a little more traditional while Club Monaco bought into a European vibe. All three had similar price points and were popular with both men and women in the twenty to thirty-five age group but their differences were slight rather than major. It was time for one of them to bust out, a risky leap.
Stores like Bloomingdales and Barney's have tried to set up mini-me satellite department stores to little or no success. The concept of multi experiential shopping is nothing new but doing it right is not an easy task.
Well, welcome Club Monaco.
I might not have even gone in if they hadn't tricked me with a side entrance for what looked like a separate shop,
Toby's Estate.
Through the window and what drew me into a backwards walk was the rack of International newspapers hanging on a tiled wall as if a bit of Paris had been sewn back into the fabric of New York.
Then beyond the newspapers a wisp of French roast wound its way around a beautiful cafe dusted in white like the confectioners sugar sprinkled on the pastries behind the counter's glass partition.
The mood was vintage commuter where you stood to grab your double expresso before catching the last train to Greenwich.
A few more steps up a short flight of stairs and the experience continued into a tiny flower shop
replete with exotic terrariums you can carry out in a cylindrical dove grey box with the label Polux Fleuriste.
Mixed in with the scent of peony were a set of upholstered tub chairs snuggling up against a marble fireplace
in the midst of a library of books which turned out to be an annex of the Strand not previously known for such elegance.
It was at this point I realized I had entered the new Club Monaco from the side rather than it's more substantial front entry as two large arches framed portholes into the main fashion salons. Club Monaco moved from being a member of the mid-sophisticate trio into a category all by itself.
The transformation was so well thought out. Their brand was no longer identified solely by its fashion product but by creating a multi-layered experience including French roast, copies of Elle Decor's The Height of Style by editor, Michael Boodro, and the scent of tea roses.
Women's fashion dominates the top floor with niches designed to segment their collection into rooms labeled the Shoe Shop, the Dress Boutique, and the Weekend Shop.
Ionic columns support a ceiling dressed with filigreed medallions hovering over a marble floor. Clearstory panels define the perimeter boutiques
along with spacious fitting rooms stylishly appointed in a way a Century 21 would never think of.
The wrought iron encased central staircase leads down to the men's collection, a stark contrast to the white envelope of the women's main floor.
The dark grey palette with touches of gold is anything put intimidating. It's a manly display without feeling like you need to be Tom Brady to saunter down the steps into the cavern of haute design.
Even a case filled with vintage Rolex is not enough to make you want to leave in fear of price tags way beyond your income.
It only adds to the excitement of discovery at every turn.
It's a no pressure environment where even the check out counter looks more like a bar than a till for taking your money.
Club Monaco got it right. The crowds of an expanded age range of clientele speaks to its eminent success and I'm one of them now sporting a beautiful sport coat styled sweater I couldn't leave without. If style is your boyfriend, Club Monaco is where he hangs his hat.

Barbara Mullen (Blowing Kiss) Harper's Bazaar, circa 1950
Lillian Bassman, photographer
Represented by Staley-Wise Gallery

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