Dec 21, 2022
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Madison Avenue wraps busy retail year with Kirna Zabête, Irene Neuwirth openings; more to come in 2023

Dec 21, 2022

Just days before Christmas 2022, Madison Avenue added two more stores to its tony lineup when Kirna Zabete and Irene Neuwirth each opened a location on the reawakening retail strip. What a difference a year (or so) makes.

Beth Buccini inside the new Kirna Zabête store - Courtesy

During the first quarter of 2021, the street was racked with empty storefront after another, each succumbing to the adverse financial effects of the pandemic. However, as life opened with consumers eager to spend and have IRL physical experiences, the retail thirst in New York couldn't seemingly be quenched; especially on Madison, known for its upscale shops frequented mainly by locals.

Located near the Frick, Kirna Zabête, the groundbreaking retail concept launched in 1999 in Soho, opened its second Manhattan location six shopping days before Christmas. According to owner Beth Buccini, the 3,000-square-foot store—designed by the S.R. Gambrel interior design firm—came together relatively fast.

"Based on when the space was turned over to us and when we received permits, we built this space in record time, finishing exactly on schedule," Buccini told FashionNetwork.com over email.

The timeline roughly went lease signing in July, accessed space in mid-August, receiving demo permits in September, and construction started in mid-October and was complete in eight weeks, a significant feat considering the amount of work involved.
The space features pale pink Venetian plaster work that created arched ceilings, red lacquered detail, patterned marble floors, carpeted accessories salon, and padded velvet walls and was conceived by founder, Steven Gambrel.

Buccini was firmly cemented in the downtown vibe but started dreaming of an uptown location in 2002 when she moved there.

"I've looked on and off for years but have never found the perfect space, location, or rent. Finally, I did," she added. The timing proved to be everything as she looked at the same space a few years earlier.

"I looked at this location in 2016, but the rent was higher than I was willing to pay," she said of the new construction building. That same owner had more reasonable terms in 2022.

In a release, the space is described as having "all the luxury of your chicest friend's dream closet," presuming that friend wears Valentino, Saint Laurent, Dries Van Noten to Alejandra Alonso Rojas, Khaite, and Ulla Johnson. Buccini describes her customer as an "uptown girl" seeking a selection of the chicest designers and gift items.

"We are very localized in how we buy and tweak every assortment to fit the clientele."
With locations in East Hampton and Palm Beach, Buccini felt she understood the Upper East Side customer.

"Spending so much time in my East Hampton and Palm Beach stores, I would regularly hear from New York City clients about how they can 'never make it downtown.' We can see the demographics of who is shopping online and in stores with their addresses, so we knew Madison Ave was a natural fit," she explained.

The instinct to lay down roots on Madison Avenue paid off as its received a positive response in only a matter of days since its opening.

"On our first full day of business, the Madison Avenue store recorded the highest revenue in all stores. We're thrilled to be here and excited to connect with new clients.

In addition to those vacation-centric locations and the new store, Kirna Zabête has a store in Bryn Mawr, the original store in Soho, and two new stores planned in Nashville and Miami's Design District in 2023.

Inside the new Irene Neuwirth store - Irene Neuwirth/Instagram

Irene Neuwirth teased her second store opening on Instagram, which bowed on December 17. Located at 937 Madison Avenue, the space is the Los Angeles-based jewelers' second flagship store. It was designed by Pamela Shamshiri of Studio Shamshiri, a Los Angeles firm that has created the Maison de la Luz Hotel in New Orleans and various residences in California and New York. A company spokesperson said the brand intends to celebrate the store in early 2023.

According to Adelaide Polsinelli, vice chairman of Compass Realty, the pace of New York retail openings in 2022 is predicted to continue in 2023.

"Retail is back and showing signs of stability and rent growth.  We are seeing the prime high street retail corridors gaining momentum and attracting the eyes of international and national retailers," she said via email, adding, "There were many challenges since 2016 when the retail market began overheating. This correction has been in place for a while. Real estate turned that corner, and the road ahead is bright."

She acknowledged the Madison Avenue revival.

"Madison is experiencing a well-deserved surge in leasing with Richemont's Peter Millar and IWC Schaffhausen both signing leases at above $800-a-square-foot," she continued, noting a luxury hot spot downtown.

"Soho is back and attracting not just experiential retailers but also strong brands smart enough to lock in long-term leases in spaces that have not been available for years. The other trend worth noting is the sale of retail spaces to users who have the foresight to buy the store instead of leasing it. The New York City real estate market is cyclical, and there is no better time to buy than at the bottom of a cycle."

Outside the Hermès store on Madison Avenue - Hermès

Perhaps the most significant commitment to Madison Avenue came from the opening of Hermès to a new larger location at 706 Madison in early October to a 20,250 square-foot store for a look described as "a union of New York dynamism and Parisian elegance" in a release. The retail experience showcases Hermes 16 metiers and a collection of artworks from established and emerging artists.

Housed in a former 1921 Federalist-style Bank of New York location and two adjacent townhouses on each corner, the space was designed by the Parisian architecture agency RDAI, led by Denis Montel, with interiors taking inspiration from New York's Art Deco past and its earliest Manhattan skyscrapers. Among the mix of contemporary design and refurbished architecture details are a small Hansom cab from the 1830s borrowed from the Émile Hermès collection, a painting by French artist Antoine Carbonne, reproductions of Hermès' scarf designs, including Centered Rhyme de Elaine Lustig Cohen, Faune et Flore du Texas by KermitOliver, and American Quilts by Aline Honoré.

The avenue was bustling all year as stores such as Jonathan Cohen put down permanent roots after staging a pop-up in May. In October, West Coast lifestyle brand John Elliot opened their second New York (and fifth total store) on Madison Avenue. Olivier Rousteing of Balmain hosted a store opening party for the Parisian brand's new store just off Madison Avenue on 59th street. At the event, the designer said he followed Pierre Balmain's footsteps. The store had a soft opening during the 2021 stage of the pandemic.

"Mr. Balmain was among the first designers to travel to show his clothes, and he was fluent in English. It sounds kind of weird to say this, but at the time, that was rare."

According to the designer, the shiny and sleek shop boasts a "modern American vibe with an elegant French touch" and harkens back to the brand's first New York store, which opened in 1970 at 795 Madison Avenue.

Outside the reopened Canali store - Canali

Italian menswear brand Canali moved catty corner after ten-plus years at its former location on Madison to a 3,000-square foot meant to evoke a Milanese palazzo store with a private VIP shopping area. Altuzarra also opened a new store on Madison in 2022. The robust retail openings matched a buzzy restaurant and private club scene such as Casa Cruz on East 61st.

Soho was also host to a slew of openings, such as the Givenchy store, a Courreges store, jeweler Jennifer Fisher and eco-friendly Italian outerwear brand Save the Duck. It also hosted Fendi and Louis Vuitton pop-ups dedicated to hero accessories for the respective houses; the baguette bag for the former and the new Louis Vuitton Sparkle pump for the latter.

Elsewhere on Fifth Avenue, the popular Spanish trend-driven store Mango opened an over 22,000-square-foot, three-story flagship, while luxury goods second-hand market behemoth Fashionphile opened an East Coast location in West Chelsea.

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