Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Neon. Video. This Is Shopping?

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Neon. Video. This Is Shopping?

Article excerpt

The Excelsior doesn't seem to match the Milanese idea of retail.

The reaction of a taxi driver to the requested destination was fairly typical of the response among older residents of this city to Excelsior, a concept store that opened in Milan last September. In the former site of a movie theater, Jean Nouvel has designed a fashion fantasyland that looks straight out of Las Vegas.

"We don't need it," the driver said. In fact, he sounded a little offended that a store like Excelsior, covering 3,715 square meters, or about 40,000 square feet, and with its facade of flashy video displays and nightclub lighting, exists in a city where shopping is supposed to be sacrosanct.

Well, surely no city on earth needs another destination boutique with the precise mix of aspirational designers and utter obscurities that retailers like to describe as "curated." But the question that occurred over several recent visits to Excelsior is why the Milanese seem to be so resistant to this one.

It is unlike any other store in the city, hipper than La Rinascente and brasher than 10 Corso Como. And although aesthetically something of an eyesore, Excelsior has a remarkable selection of fashion and home designs, a marvelous food and wine market and, judging by its scale and the investment behind it, vast reserves of ambition. Gruppo Coin, an Italian department store company, along with the real estate developer Beni Stabili, spent more than EUR 30 million, or $40 million, on its development and renovation over three years.

In a quiet arcade off the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a heavily trafficked street populated by global chains like Zara and Mango, and just a few blocks from the Duomo, Excelsior looks like an enormous video game that was plopped down amid a major tourist destination.

The chaotic impression lent by multiple video screens on its exterior windows is reflected inside, where accessories and fashion are spread over five floors, in seemingly randomly placed stalls and glass cases.

Each floor is connected to the next by an automated ramp that is kind of a cross between a people mover and an escalator. The owners describe the store as "a journey through the shopping of the future."

On an early visit to Excelsior, a few weeks after it opened, the ground floor was packed with young people milling among displays of four-figure Valextra wallets, inexpensive Swatch watches, cuckoo iPhone accessories, a street cart filled with Laduree macarons and a flower stand. A small line of people waited outside a separate display for Tiffany & Co. jewelry.

An elevator in the back of the store was stuck on a mezzanine level, where beauty products are stored. Video monitors list which designers are on each floor, but they change every few seconds, reading "3: Altuzarra" at one moment and "2: Dries Van Noten" the next. …

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