From the street, you can’t sense the war taking place inside the new Nordstrom Men’s Store in Manhattan, which takes up three floors in a glossy building just south of Columbus Circle.
And even when you step inside and come face to face with a charming, neon-colored installation that displays radical clothes from Comme des Garçons and Gosha Rubchinskiy, the sorts of garments not usually found on 57th and Broadway, you may not gather that what you’re seeing is a kind of mask, a Kabuki of avant-gardism.
Take time to walk the entirety of the store, though, and you’ll get whiplash. Just a few feet separate the chunky Balenciaga Triple S sneakers ($895) from the earth-tone Rainbow flip-flops ($54) favored by Malibu layabouts. A rack of piercingly bright swimsuits — say, the pink Peter Millar one covered in fish ($85) — is merely a tiny splash away from a mature black-and-blue MCM weekend bag ($1,170).
One store, two (or more) souls: Sometimes the dialogue is cordial, sometimes it’s a shouting match, and sometimes the face-off is stoic. The range in products offered here — extremely affordable to practically unattainable, familiar to little known, easy-to-wear to adventurous — is, at its best, an acknowledgment that now more than ever, people wear outfits that include clothes with wildly different provenances and prices.
But that’s not the same as different ideologies. This new Nordstrom, the first in New York City that’s not a Nordstrom Rack discount store, aims to be all things to one person but instead is more one thing to many different kinds of people.
Perhaps at no other store in New York is there such a disorienting narrative: an intersection of brands I swoon over (Deveaux, Bedwin & the Heartbreakers), brands I accept as part of a balanced wardrobe (Norse Projects, Patagonia), brands I had to Google (Rodd & Gunn, G/Fore), brands I associate with discount stores but still have affection for (check out the joltingly colorful socks by Bugatchi Uomo).
This being an actual physical store, with inventory that hasn’t been shared with or gobbled up by eager internet buyers, you can find some especially coveted sneakers. J.W. Anderson’s Converse collaboration and Comme des Garçons’ pink Air Max 180s. Those Balenciaga Triple S’s and also the hard-to-find Dior Homme runners.
If you were looking to fill in a hole in your collection, as I was, without navigating the traumatizing online resale ecosystem, you could just walk right in, try a pair on and walk out with it. It felt radical.
Broadly speaking, though, the store’s luxury offerings (Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin) aren’t particularly remarkable, especially given the competition. Bergdorf is a few blocks to the east, Barneys a couple more. But those are stores for the dedicated and the knowledgeable; they require buy-in and a certain level of pre-existing confidence. You’re probably pretty well dressed, and well capitalized, before you walk in.
A Critic’s Picks
The barrier to entry at the Nordstrom Men’s Store is lower. The supposition is that someone casually fingering a strategically bland Theory oxford shirt one minute may then get entranced by the flamboyant prints beaming out of the Valentino section.
One can hope! Uniting all of these clothes under one roof is a byproduct of the broadening of the audience for high-end men’s fashion and espouses a belief that the slope from casual to enthusiastic shopper is slippery (with the wallet to match).
During a couple of midweek visits I made, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, the number of men shopping alone, especially for a store that had been open only a few weeks, was rather astonishing. Some carried briefcases, some looked jobless (the by-choice kind).
One guy in a black and gray digital camouflage suit told a saleswoman he was looking for “style inspo.” She seemed keen to help, or at least listen. That was true throughout the store: I was attended to and asked after at a level I associate with the most genteel corners of the South.
This was especially impressive because the store has a lot of densely packed ground to cover: The person who inquired whether I wanted to try the baby blue Corneliani sport coat with zip-in trompe l’oeil vest ($1,395) was different from the person who asked if I needed help navigating the Juun.J rack of distended tops, who was different from the person who gamely tried to track down a Deveaux silk resort shirt in my size, to no avail. And that was only on one-third of the top floor.
There is a cafe in the basement, a barber chair on the main floor. In addition to clothes, fragrances and electronic products are sold. The store is a mall unto itself.
In that context, that ground-floor installation, designed by Olivia Kim of Nordstrom and the artist Marc Hundley, with an accompanying zine, feels like a kiosk designed to catch the eye — a diversion or a destination, depending on your mood. Placing these clothes near the main entrance, including the pink glitter shorts James Harden wears in the current issue of GQ ($1,723), ends up as an act of confidence, not alienation.
If you want to push beyond that to the Shinola watches, the Saturdays NYC T-shirts, the Nike cargo pants, you’re welcome to. But maybe you shouldn’t.