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Archive for June, 2010

Outstanding exchange

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

“Have an outstanding day,” the Macy’s sales associate said after giving me a refund on a bed skirt.
It felt a bit over-the-top for a young woman who was leaning on the counter when I arrived and barely mumbled hello.  So I said thanks, but couldn’t resist asking:  “Did Macy’s tell you to say that?”
“Yes.”

The next big ticket

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

In some cities, Nordstrom’s Fall Designer Preview draws upwards of 500 people. The crowd at Nordstrom Mall of America was considerably smaller tonight, maybe 150, but give it a year, I think we’ll see the fashion troops mobilize for this classy event. It’s not the dancing-on-the-rooftop party that you get at Glamorama, but if you love fashion and want to feel like a New York housewife, it’s the real deal: a straight, serious runway preview of fall collections including Chanel, Gucci, Missoni (you can already picture the blonde MN ladies in their patchwork sweaters and leggings) and the gorgeous finale, Oscar de la Renta (pictured here). Thanks, Nordstrom, for realizing that you don’t have to live on the coasts to appreciate fashion. As proof: after the show, guests shopped while sipping champagne. Armani, Donna Karan – and none of it on sale.

Parting words of retail wisdom

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Exclusive Uptown, Minneapolis boutique Intoto is closing after 21 years (sale details here). The economy is not to blame. Owner Karen Heithoff is 65, has five grandkids in New York  and other interests to pursue on her bucket list. “It was just time,” she says. If you’re not familiar with Intoto, it’s probably because you couldn’t afford it – the store stocked luxury labels like Dries van Noten, Phillip Lim and Paul Smith and never apologized for it. “When we opened, our customer wasn’t shopping in Minneapolis – they would shop when they traveled,” Heithoff said. “We romanced those customers. They really trusted us.” Despite the coming of the Mall of America and the steady ascent of the Galleria, despite more recent high end boutique arrivals like OPM, and our more recent love affair with fast fashion from the likes of H&M and Forever 21, Heithoff believes there is room in the Twin Cities for another designer store like hers. Here are her secrets:

  • Service. “We would do anything for our customers. We really became friends with them.”
  • Have a point of view. “Our customers learned to appreciate our taste. We educated them. If you confuse your customers by switching directions all the time, it’s the kiss of death.”
  • Don’t be ruled by the economy. If you’re a high end store, stick with it, even in tough times. “Of course it’s been challenging in the last 18 months, but if someone wants a $10 t-shirt, they can buy that elsewhere, not from me,” Heitoff said. “In our case, our customers are loyal and they continued shopping with us.” Her one concession, within the lines she stocked, she looked for a broader range of price points.
  • Don’t underestimate the market. “There’s a refined fashion look in Minneapolis that could be worn anywhere. It’s very sharp.”

Elephant Ears: Smart or silly?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Baby Elephant Ears have been sitting on my desk for weeks. It’s a Minnesota company, created by an enterprising mom with a great personal story – three big selling points when I’m looking for Cool Products to feature for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But I can’t bring myself to declare this one “cool,” because, well, I think it’s sort of silly. The Elephant Ears, $21.95, are pillows intended to keep baby’s head, neck and spine aligned in the stroller, swing or car seat. Alicia Overby created the pillow after talking to a chiropractor about her infant son Finn’s apparent discomfort, which the chiropractor said was due to a sore neck. Now, I do recall worrying my firstborn’s neck would snap when his head dropped to his lap in the stroller. I made various attempts, in vain, to prop him up. But I quickly learned how resiliant babies are – and how adept they are at sleeping in a wide variety of contorted positions that appear ridiculously uncomfortable to adults. So while I think this pillow is cute enough – provided it is kept out of the crib, of course – I can’t help but relegate it to that category of baby goods that play to anxious parents rather than infant needs. What do you think? Tell me I’m wrong -that Elephant Ears are a smart invention – and I’ll make it a Cool Product Alert in the coming weeks.

Room & Board in color

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

As if I didn’t already love Room & Board enough, the contemporary furniture retailer is introducing bold pops of color to its usual repertoire of soft neutrals. The Frank Gehry designed abstract cube (perfect for outdoors) was just released in five brights: yellow, green, blue, red and magenta. The classic Wishbone chair is available in blue, orange and white and the Moda kids bedroom collection comes in eight new shades. Wonder how long until some pieces show up at the Weekend Outlet.

Glamorama build up

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Expect a more dance-intensive Glamorama from Macy’s this year. “So You Think You Can Dance” choreographer Brian Friedman, who has worked with Britney Spears, Beyonce and Usher, has been brought on to produce the dance numbers. The fashion sequences will continue to be choreographed by Myron Johnson, artistic director of Ballet of the Dolls. At a kick-off event at Crave yesterday, the Macy’s team seemed especially excited to have Issey Miyake in the show for the first time. They also said Macy Gray won’t be the only headliner and promised another announcement soon. Glamorama takes place Aug. 6 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis and then travels to Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. For tickets, click here.

Shirt dos and don’ts for men

Monday, June 21st, 2010

T-shirt or polo? Polo or t-shirt? While I envy men their simple, clear cut choices (no man is late for work because he swapped a blouse for a sleeveless dress at the last minute and then realized he hadn’t shaved his underarms for, um, a few days), men’s casual clothes for summer can get fairly boring. And still, men do manage to make mistakes. Like the tattoo-type graphic print t-shirt (no need to name names). I think Tom Julian, author of “Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Everyday Dressing,” is being kind when he says no guy over 35 should wear those shirts.” What men should add to their wardrobe this summer: a cotton slub polo (like this one from Diesel, $60 at Nordstrom). It’s got the polish of a collared shirt, but the ease and comfort of your best worn t-shirt. That’s casual cool.
What else should men buy this summer? Listen to my conversation with Tom on Shop Girls on myTalk 107.1 (click the podcast for Hour 1, June 19). And see what he had to say about Spanx for Men. My favorite line, which, unfortunately, I just couldn’t work into the newspaper article: “Men want to avoid the Simon Cowell problem: Man boobs.”

Shellac, after 1 week

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Never in my life. One week after my nails were polished with Shellac, they’re still perfect. Not one chip. Every time I look at them, I’m delightfully surprised.

Lifestyle center needs life

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Had an errand to run at Mall of America, a new store to see (Bling Apparel) at Shoppes at Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove and two kids to drag with me. I opted for Arbor Lakes this evening, mainly because it was a beautiful night and I thought it would be nice to stroll outside between stores and cap the outing with ice cream. Arbor Lakes is filled with popular chains and does boast a few local boutiques like Goodthings and Bluebird. The sidewalks are clean. The flowers are pretty. The piped in Sirius radio music that follows you everywhere is weird – and but one symptom of this center’s identity confusion. On real city streets, the sounds you hear come from people around you – chaos, horns, street musicians. If you want to create the feel of a town center, don’t act like a mall. I would have stayed longer, but after running my errands and stopping to let my boys observe the fountain for a few moments, there wasn’t anything to do. Where are the street entertainers? No, they’re probably not going to just show up way out in the burbs – but truck ‘em in. Lots of people want an audience. They should have live music every weekend evening on that plaza. How about a juggler? Or some artists displaying their work. Where are the sidewalk cafes that don’t face the parking lot? And since this is family central, why not create an outdoor play area – give Dad and the kid a place to frolic so Mom can linger in the stores. Instead, we piled back in the car and crossed the four (eight?) lane road, parked in the massive lot behind the faux Main Street and went to Coldstone Creamery. I couldn’t finish mine. Ice cream tastes better in the city.

The $27 discrepancy

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

While I appreciate that it’s tough for boutiques to compete on price, small retailers have to realize that it takes but a few clicks on a keyboard for shoppers to compare. I didn’t go looking for a better deal on Out of Print Clothing’s cool book cover t-shirts; I simply wanted to know more about the brand after spotting it at the new Steele Fitness boutique on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. Steele is selling the tees for $56. Online, they’re $29. Not only will I not be buying one at the store, the whopping $27 discrepancy makes me weary of their prices in general. And that’s a steep price for a boutique to pay.
Addendum: I appreciate a retailer that listens, and responds – which is exactly what Steele Fitness did within hours of this post. Mistakes happen. Be sure to read “comments” for the company’s reaction.


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