344af4f3dc158210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2010-02What's in store244af4f3dc158210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____What's in storeIs Bloomingdale's too middle-of-the-road for the Middle East? As the retailer opens its firt Dubai location, we look at how the famous retailer's past informs its future.<p>It's just a simple satchel, made from a sort of butcher paper, with three little words written in a curvy, sans serif font: Little brown bag. Medium brown bag. Big brown bag.
It's the most iconic shopping bag in the history of American retail. And there is no doubt, when passing one on the street, that it came from Bloomingdale's.
In its 138th year of business and steeped in history, the department store is finally opening doors abroad, starting with the global shopping capital Dubai. Today, two Bloomingdale's locations open at Dubai Mall - a three-floor, 146,000-square-foot fashion and accessories store and a 54,000-square-foot housewares store - anchoring the still-fresh retail centre. Other department stores already operating in the mall include France's Galeries Lafayette, and the UK's Debenhams and Marks & Spencer.</p>
<p>Bloomingdale's will be run by the Dubai-based retail giant Al Tayer Group, falling under the remit of Shireen el Khatib, the CEO of Al Tayer Insignia, the luxury leg of the group, which includes names such as Harvey Nichols and Balenciaga. Bloomingdale's was a unique choice for Al Tayer.
"As far as luxury goes, Bloomingdale's falls within the middle of the New York department store hierarchy," explains Lila Delilah, the editor of the popular New York shopping blog Madison Avenue Spy. A longtime luxury shopper, Delilah launched the blog in May 2008 in response to the lack of information about top sales in Manhattan available on the web. Since then, she has developed a cult following.</p>
<p>"Bloomingdale's has a wider assortment of price points and is less intimidating to many customers," says Delilah. "They carry more bridge/diffusion lines, which attracts a more economically diverse clientele."
That's not to say that you won't find high-end designer wares lining the shelves at the Dubai outpost. But you're also likely to come across Alice in Wonderland-inspired fashions by Disney and an entire range of products emblazoned with the store's famous logo, designed by Massimo Vignelli. Shoppers who wish for souvenirs in which to pack their new House of Harlow rings (designed by the Los Angeles socialite Nicole Richie) or Tory Burch tunics (created by the New York socialite-turned-trendsetter of the same name) will be able to choose from a "medium canvas bag" fashioned after the traditional paper shopping bag and made from recycled cotton, a vinyl "little brown cosmetics case" or a "big canvas bag" in untreated cotton.</p>
<p>This may all sound remarkably diverse: today's New York Bloomingdale's may be a lot of things - shopping hub, entertainment centre, tourist attraction - but no one can deny that, most importantly, its rich past informs its future.
Bloomingdale's, known affectionately as Bloomie's, was founded on a fad: the hoop skirt. The brothers Lyman and Joseph Bloomingdale did well selling the bone frame undergarments but soon realised that offering a diverse selection of goods would draw in more customers and hopefully maintain their loyalty over time. Thus the department store was opened in 1872, north of what was then New York City's retail centre. The Bloomingdale's Great East Side Bazaar sat on East 56th Street, a few blocks from where it is today. (In 1929, the current 59th Street location was opened, resplendent with an art deco facade.)</p>
<p>In the store's first decade of operation, the Bloomingdale brothers quickly realised that New York's monied set were interested in lush fineries from abroad. From then on, they focused on expanding that market, even opening a buying office in Paris in 1886. At Bloomingdale's, shoppers could find everything from Italian furniture to French textiles and perfumes.
Years on, exclusivity was still the name of the Bloomingdale's game. In 1947, executives asked the American designers Claire McCardell, Adele Simpson and Pauline Trigère to create a Bloomingdale's Collection, available only at the store. In a time when most department stories simply produced cheap versions of Parisian runway looks, Bloomingdale's was making stars out of American designers. (Pieces from the range are now part of the Costume Institute's permanent collection at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.) That same year, Bloomingdale's opened the first of its now-famous model rooms, or display rooms designed by famous architects and artists, featuring products for sale in the store.</p>
<p>The decade also marked the opening of the first Bloomingdale's store outside of Manhattan. Fresh Meadows, Queens, got its very own Bloomie's in 1949. Soon enough, there were more than 100 locations across the US.
But it wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that the store gained significant international recognition as a fashion forerunner. While he wasn't an active participant in the company, the heir Alfred S Bloomingdale and his wife, Betsy, influenced their rich friends to shop there, including the socialite Nan Kempner in New York and Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Los Angeles. The wealthiest social circles began forgoing Bergdorf Goodman for Bloomie's now and again.</p>
<p>In the early 1970s, the store's appeal expanded beyond the upper crust. Suddenly, the well-dressed but youthful east siders who lived in the Midtown East neighbourhood were also regulars. Bloomingdale's model rooms became a hangout for the city's rich and hip crowd. Designed by everyone from Pierre Cardin to Frank Gehry, the rooms attracted well-heeled teenagers who spent Saturdays socialising - and shopping - at Bloomie's. Before Barneys New York was known as the place to find up-and-coming designers, Bloomingdale's introduced legendary fashion names such as Ralph Lauren, Norma Kamali, Dolce & Gabbana, John Galliano and Sonia Rykiel to the American public.</p>
<p>The executive behind those fashionable introductions was Marvin Traub, who became Bloomingdale's CEO in 1978. As depicted in his book, Like No Other Store... the Bloomingdale's Legend and the Revolution in American Market, Traub transformed the retailer into a fashion powerhouse, making it a must-visit for everyone from Ivana Trump to the Queen of England.
But by the time Traub resigned in 1991, the company was in a financial shambles, dealing with bankruptcy and a lawsuit brought on by the former owner Campeau Corporation, a now-defunct Canadian investment firm. Michael Gould, the current CEO of Bloomingdale's, was brought in to revitalise the company.</p>
<p>The first big change occurred when Federated Department Stores, the holding company that owned Bloomingdale's, merged with the more downmarket Macy's in 1994. The chain of equally historic department stores is most famous for its starring role in the classic Hollywood film Miracle on 34th Street and its annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
That same year, the Neiman Marcus veteran Terry Lundgren was brought on to run the group. He and Gould proceeded to change the direction of Bloomingdale's, making it less about outrageous high fashion and more about accessible glamour. In a world where casual mall culture ruled, Bloomingdale's was the one upscale department store that anyone could feel comfortable visiting. Instead of competing directly with the edgy city stores Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue as it had done in the past, Bloomingdale's aimed to draw customers away from more approachable retailers like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.</p>
<p>Today, even at the New York flagship, where you can still find Chanel ready-to-wear, Bloomingdale's maintains that exclusive but not too exclusive veneer. While native New Yorkers stop by for the incredible selection of linens and staples from contemporary labels such as Theory and Marc by Marc Jacobs, the store is also popular with tourists and families enjoying a day of shopping and lunch at David Burke's, the casual cafe on the store's first floor.</p>
<p>Some days, shoppers just need a pair of jeans, not a $2,000 (Dh7,350) dress from Proenza Schouler. A staff that knows its product helps, too. With a focus on customer service, the store employs retail specialists ready to assist serious customers. "Bloomingdale's is the friendliest, or at least most accessible, of the high-end department stores in New York City," says Elizabeth Grinspan, the editor of popular New York-based shopping website Racked. "It occupies a nice middle ground in that way. It's the kind of place where a conservative mom and a trendy daughter can go shopping together."</p>
<p>So what can the Gulf expect from its very own Bloomingdale's?
Al Tayer has kept mum up until today's launch, but we do know that the deal was brokered by the former Bloomie's CEO Traub, who represented Al Tayer in the matter. Given Traub's penchant for high-end, luxury goods, we can expect the product to be a bit more upscale than its American counterpart. With Al Tayer Insignia's portfolio of licensees including the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, it's likely many of those brands will be represented in the store alongside major US accounts like Calvin Klein, Coach and John Varvatos.</p>
<p>Confirmed labels include Diane von Furstenberg, which will operate a shop in shop, as well as Judith Ripka jewellery.
In terms of food, el Khatib said in late 2008 that there will be an outpost of 40 Carrots restaurant, a mainstay at Bloomingdale's Manhattan flagship. The cafe offers health-conscious yet flavourful fare, from world-famous frozen yogurt to fresh crabmeat salad. There will also be a Magnolia Bakery, the New York cupcake maker made famous by Sex and the City.</p>
<p>Of course, the focus on homewares should be noted. While the larger fashion and accessories store is sure to draw more traffic initially, the home store might be Al Tayer's secret weapon. The stand-alone space will offer an extensive range of bedding, furniture and everything else needed to transform a new flat into something inspired by Bloomingdale's popular 1960s model rooms. This is an essential part of building the brand in the Middle East, especially because it's a region where, despite financial setbacks, spending is still a sport. In 2009, the region accounted for 30 per cent of the world's luxury goods store openings, according to the New York-headquartered research firm Bain & Company.</p>
<p>Whatever the next few months bring in terms of sales, it's evident that Bloomingdale's is aiming to offer something different from Al Tayer's existing department store, Harvey Nichols: something with a unique history. Something distinctly New York.
<b>Bloomingdale's opens today at Dubai Mall.</b></p>
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