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Textiles of the Rich and Famous

"With the opening of these two new very important stores, the rules have been changed in the upstairs market."

Warren Shoulberg PUBLISHER/ EDITORIAL DIRECTORWarren Shoulberg PUBLISHER/ EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
IF THE HIGH-END, better goods portion of the home textiles market is dead, apparently Ralph Lauren and Lord & Taylor didn't get the memo. Each has opened a new, drop-dead gorgeous home department at its New York City flagship and they represent the state of the art when it comes to merchandising presentation in the business.
     But that's not all. With the opening of these two new very important stores, the rules have been changed in the upstairs market and we are likely to see reverberations up and down the food chain for some time to come.
     The Lord & Taylor move, remaking the ninth floor of its former dowager-like store into a home floor, is probably the more surprising of the two moves. L&T got out of the home business some 20 years ago and in the interim turned into a May Co. clone that was neither here nor there ... and looked it. Under former president Jane Elfers the store began to un-May itself, proving there was life after the matrix. She wasn't kept around long enough to see the process through but the store - at least the flagship anyway - is being reawoken and the new home floor is part of that.
     It sports twin Lauren Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein departments that both compliment and complement each other, breaking down the department in department stores to show largely integrated merchandising assortments in room vignettes and, in the case of Calvin, in a mock house format. They are not the greatest thing since sliced bread, but they are among the most well-done examples of the department store genre around.
     The new Ralph Lauren Home floor at the company's just-opened store across from its Rhinelander Mansion flagship is in a league by itself. This is Ralph Lauren as only Ralph Lauren can pull off. The marble budget alone would sink most retailers' annual capital expenditures. The use of high-end materials to set the stage for the product is extraordinary and again the integration of classifications into unified lifestyles is something virtually nobody else could pull off.
     If you have not seen these two stores yet, get there fast.
     And when you do, you will probably have plenty of company. Not only will vendors be there - some were making the rounds on a recent day - but those suspicious looking groups of people in suits will no doubt be executives from Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom's, Saks and Neiman's.
     For Bloomingdale's, these two stores represent the first serious challenge the company has had on the island of Manhattan in a long, long time. And while Bloomies does as good a job with as bad a space for its home textiles floor at 59th Street, these two new stores raise the bar considerably. The store will need to react somehow, the only questions remains how.
     For the other three stores, it's time to shift or get off the pot. They have been messing around with home for years, sticking this merchandising toe in that product on and off for years. As long as nobody else was doing it, they didn't feel as if they were losing out to anybody else. Now they are.
     One of these stores is going to blink and that's a good thing for the home textiles industry. New retail outlets exposing the product to the consumer are critical for the overall success of the industry.
     And how ironic is it that the retailer starting this process off - L&T - sounds awfully close to another of the industry's game changers, the late, lamented LNT?

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