The story has now become a legend.
In 1967, when Ralph Lauren was just starting out, he persuaded the Bloomingdale’s team to buy his fledgling line of wide men’s ties. The relationship that started that day has continued, and today the designer’s brand is one of the retailer’s top suppliers.
But that was just one of the menswear milestones the department store has achieved over the course of its storied 150-year history.
“The collaboration with Ralph – from the introduction of the ties to the first store in America – is the one that gets a lot of press and forms the basis of our very special relationship with Ralph Lauren Corp., but we also launched Canali in the US and countless other brands,” said Dan Leppo, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s, children’s, cosmetics and home accessories. “We were also the first to use sports stars in our marketing,” and Saturday’s Generation section was seen as a model for young men’s merchandising during its heyday in the 1970s.
But the store is not resting on its laurels and continues to evolve the men’s range into the next century.
“As we look ahead,” Leppo said, “I’m most excited about the continued evolution of menswear.”
The store is just completing a renovation of the men’s store at 59th Street’s flagship, where the team was able to “reimagine” the floors based on how menswear changes,” he said.
That includes the opening of a redesigned 13,000 square foot footwear department with 70 percent more space and a wide range of casual and dress shoes – from designer to performance brands – as well as accessories, select fragrances and a hat gallery.
The department caters to the needs of today’s customers who are willing to own many more shoes for different occasions – both dress and casual. In addition to sneakers, these are shoes from “powerful brands” such as Gucci, Valentino, Tod’s, Saint Laurent and others – many of whom have installed new store concepts in the store.
But that was just the beginning. There are also new areas for denim and cutting edge contemporary sellers. “This is the first time clothes have been run from Lexington to Third Avenue on one floor,” says Leppo. The presentation is fluid and features “innovative smaller brands in the middle,” he said. There are shops for Vince, Theory and Stone Island and a space for contemporary bridge brands such as Boss, Varvatos and All Saints. On the north side of the store, where shoes used to be, are classic sportswear brands such as Peter Millar, along with smaller boutique brands such as Sid Mashburn and Faherty. Other brands to be featured include Kenzo, Helmut Lang and Officine Generale, he said.
Leppo further revealed that after a hiatus of some four or five years, the company’s Double RL brand will be making its return this fall, the store is building a relationship with Los Angeles-based Ami and continues to expand with Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Tod’s and Zegna. “We are very excited about our continued increase,” he said.
But the more ‘gentlemanly brands’ have not been forgotten either, with new shops for Canali, Armani and the Ermenegildo Zegna tailor-made offer, as well as for Eton. But instead of focusing primarily on clothing ranges, luxury sportswear is also part of the mix, addressing what Leppo described as a “modern expression of how a gentleman wears a more tailored garment”.
This represents a rethink of a category that has been dramatically affected by the pandemic.
Leppo explained: “We wondered if we would put energy into trying to make custom clothing from terrible to just terrible, or move to where the customer will go when they get out of COVID-19 and to events have to go. , out to dinner, to the office. He wants to look more polished and we really thought about how we would present the floor with more powerful sportswear presentations.”
So instead of focusing solely on nested suits, the store is displaying a Harrington jacket with drawstring pants, for example, to meet the demand for hybrid dressing and more comfortable options.
“What’s really exciting about menswear right now is how many men are really into fashion,” Leppo said. “If you think about the evolution of menswear over the past 25 years, there is a lingering interest in a man who shops for himself and the combination of work and weekend wardrobe. And what that is allowed is a broad-based recovery where things that are very contemporary and very classic are both strong. Streetwear is evolving – it’s a little less logo driven, sneakers too, and we see the rise of Birkenstock and On Running. But that’s the beauty of being a department store. When we’re on our game, we go where the customer goes. That is much more difficult if you are a vertical specialty store.”
And while the macroeconomic situation is always a concern, Leppo has learned not to focus on things he has no control over.
“What we’re doing is staying nimble and nimble to keep goods that the customer is interested in flowing and move them where they go. And the customer is moving faster than ever before.”
Leppo said this rapidly changing consumer is not only in New York City, but also in other cities where Bloomingdale’s also has stores.
“There used to be a much longer delay between something very hot in New York, LA and Miami, and reaching the suburbs,” he said. But in this world of social media “the timeline is so much shorter. So things may drop off a little faster in some of the big metropolitan markets and take a little longer in some suburban markets, but in terms of interest and awareness it’s a much shorter delta.” then … in the past.’
In addition to menswear, Leppo has also been selling the home business since 2015. While many competitors have toned down or abandoned that end of the business, it remains an integral part of Bloomingdale’s success.
“Home is a big business for us,” he said. “We are truly the only luxury full-line store in the US. We have furniture, bedding, homeware, kitchen electronics, cookware, table tops, luggage, and a very robust bridal registry business.”
Leppo said the store has built a reputation as the “fashion home store.” We have a business model that makes us look much more like a Bon Marche, Printemps or Harrods. It takes up three full floors at the flagship. We have some of the biggest luxury brands in the world, such as Frette, Baccarat and Christofle. I can’t think of any other luxury department store in the world with 72 beds on the textile floor.”
While the category has always been a differentiator, the company was especially strong during the pandemic when everyone was sheltering at home.
“There was an interest in cooking, an interest in updating your decor when you decided you hated the bed you slept in or you couldn’t stand your couch,” he said. “Then there was a point in April 2020 when Amazon started prioritizing shipping staples to customers and de-prioritised some of their other businesses. And Starbucks closed pretty much all of their stores nationwide. All of a sudden, it was Christmas every day for us because I was able to get orders to customers within 48 hours that was the first suspicion that this could be really interesting for the home business And it led to customers who loved us and our clothes also us for home discovered.”
And Leppo expects the momentum to continue.
“We are now at a time when most weddings will take place since 1984. And we have a very strong wedding registry business. The tabletop is very strong at the moment, as is the luggage now that people are traveling again, both for pleasure and for work.”
A year ago, Leppo was also put in charge of the cosmetics business, a lucrative category with an ‘energy and buzz’ like no other. Now that the pandemic has eased, the store will return to events this fall, bringing estheticians back to the floor, along with makeup clinics and other popular clienteles, such as spa rooms in each store where shoppers can work privately with associates to purchase skincare products. testing — from La Prairie and Lancôme to Clinique.
This blending of entertainment with commerce has helped Bloomingdale’s build large businesses with its brand partners in various categories.
Leppo cited luxury perfumes as a company that has been “incredibly strong”, from Maison Francis Kurkdjian to Creed and number 9 that is “absolutely astonishing in their growth”. They are very limited in their distribution and offer incredible value for what they are.”
The treatment industry, led by brands like La Prairie and Sisley, is strong, and while color generally came back “a little slower,” Chanel was a standout, as were Charlotte Tilbury and Dior, he said.
While cosmetics are dominated by products aimed at women, men have also shown more interest in the category.
“Men have become more involved in treatment,” he said. “And on the fragrance side, it’s a really big part of the business,” with brands like Tom Ford and Kiehl’s being especially popular with guys.
For both genders, the days of aggressive spritzers are long gone, replaced by an enhanced service experience that helps customers better understand the value and features of each product.
Regardless of the department, Bloomingdale’s is celebrating its store-wide anniversary with a slew of special events.
For men, Leppo chose a Zegna custom event that goes beyond the traditional trunk show and will instead include stylists working with celebrities for award shows to bring their specific sensitivities to Bloomingdale’s clients.
In full circle, the team is also working with Ralph Lauren on a special anniversary capsule. And while there may or may not be wide tires, the shop will take over the bar-restaurant for lunch to treat customers to a meal.
So, what’s on tap for Bloomingdale’s for the next 150 years? Leppo takes it day by day.
“We spend a lot of time trying to be in the moment,” he said. Whether that’s “landmark moments like the Ralph store,” or partnerships with Rent, Evan Hanson, the Beatles, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, and others over the years, “I hope we spend just as much energy and effort at the moment for the next 150 years, because that is really our connection with our customer and where their mindset is.”