Fall Preview: Shopping / Gucci Fireworks

Call it a Gucci coup. The venerable italian luxury-goods company famous for parlaying a pair of loafers, a pair of g’s, and a snaffle bit into one of the greatest fashion names in history is having a combination homecoming and debut this week. With a pull-out-the-stops fête to be thrown for celebrities, fashionistas, and select others this Wednesday night, Gucci has planned an evening that is for fashion’s faithful what the first play of the football season is to sports fans: kickoff night.

Gucci’s two-decade-old Fifth Avenue store reopens its doors after a lavish 15-month renovation, inside and out, by architect William Sofield (this after the dramatic 72-month renovation of the whole company under Tom Ford). With 35,000 square feet of space and several floors of corporate offices, Gucci hopes the relaunch will be the beginning of a comeback for the Fifth Avenue shopping district as well.

Standing at the corner of 54th Street, the new concrete-and-limestone embodiment of Gucci, Inc., marks the midpoint between the Avenue’s two major players – or anchors, in shopping-mall terms – Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Clearly, Gucci expects the newly burnished store to be a high-end anchor in its own right.

Dripping with rosewood and travertine, the new design is modern through and through but hardly stark. With its five floors (up from three), two elevators, maze of stairways, and umpteen balconies looking out onto other floors, the emporium is a monument to today’s unisex, gotta-have-it consumer madness.

“With all the balconies and sexually charged spaces,” says Sofield, “there’s a really see-and-be-seen element, almost like at a nightclub. But then there are the more intimate pockets, the fitting rooms, that feel very residential.”

But Gucci and Fifth Avenue don’t have autumn’s opulent stage all to themselves. Just uptown, Madison Avenue, Manhattan’s other luxury ghetto, is rolling out another icon’s subtler store. Michael Kors, the favorite of this season’s uptown girl, opens his first store at 76th Street. Going beyond the heart of Madison’s designer district – north of 72nd Street, that is – with just 3,500 square feet of retail space, Kors’s debut shop is just one tenth the size of the new Gucci – and just what Kors was after. And as for the location, well, it may not be across the street from Barneys, but it is a gemstone’s throw from the Carlyle.

“Michael wanted it to feel like a modern neighborhood dress shop,” says Anne Waterman, Kors’s liaison, speaking for the vacationing designer. “He didn’t want some enormous mausoleum and shrine to the ‘world of.’ He wanted it to be a place where you’ll feel comfortable sitting and talking and trying on clothes. It’s still modern, but very comforting. The flooring is walnut; there’s a lot camel. It’s not a poured-concrete floor with white walls and steel hanging rods – Michael’s not interested in another stark modern anything.”

Always smart about covering its bets, Gucci isn’t pinning all its hopes on Fifth Avenue’s luxury revival. Like its rivals Prada and Versace, which have a store on each avenue, Gucci has plans for a Madison Avenue store, but nothing concrete.

Fall Preview: Shopping / Gucci Fireworks