Critical Shopper: Nordstrom Men: Choose Your Own Adventure


Critical shopper

The new store is not what you’d expect to find at 57th and Broadway. For one thing, you may find some highly coveted sneakers here.

The new Nordstrom Men’s Store at the intersection of 57th Street and Broadway.CreditStefania Curto for The New York Times

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.

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The main staircase looking down at the first floor.CreditStefania Curto for The New York Times

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.


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Dior Homme technical trainers, a streamlined take on orthopedia with a neon jolt ($1,100).CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

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.

The first floor.CreditStefania Curto for The New York Times

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.


Nordstrom Men’s Store

235 West 57th Street, 212-843-5100; nordstrom.com

Nordstrom Opening a New York Store as Other Retailers Close Theirs


Nordstrom created a mock-up of the new men’s store in an industrial area outside Seattle, accessible only to employees, as it tried to figure out how best to appeal to both New York’s fashion mavens and more down-to-earth shoppers on lunch break.

“We know a market like New York doesn’t need just another place to buy a pair of pants,” said Peter Nordstrom, a company co-president and a great-grandson of the co-founder John W. Nordstrom.

The store may serve as a test case for whether department stores have a future, as people more frequently shop online. To compete, Nordstrom is aiming to combine cutting-edge technology with old-school in-store service.

Rag-snapping shoe shiners will work on the bottom floor, while digital screens in the suit section will display custom-made jackets on an avatar of the shopper. There will be 16 tailors on staff — part of the largest network of tailors in North America.

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The audio items section on the store’s first floor.

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Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

If a customer needs a tie at 2 in the morning, he can order it online and a Nordstrom employee will meet him at a store entrance — no matter the hour. Returns can be made by simply scanning an item at a digital kiosk and depositing it in a bin — no human interaction needed.

The company plans to open an even larger women’s store, totaling seven stories, across from the men’s store in the fall of 2019. And Nordstrom already operates two Nordstrom Rack stores — a line of discount stores that has flourished among bargain hunters — in Manhattan.

One reason the company is making such a big investment in Manhattan: Other similar businesses find that their Manhattan stores are among their best performing — despite all of the city’s recent retail turmoil.

But opening large, cutting-edge stores in one of the priciest real estate markets — and most competitive retail environments — in the world is a costly endeavor. “It is definitely risky, there is no question about it,” said Joel Bines, global co-head of retail at AlixPartners, a consulting firm. “You need to have nerves of steel to attempt to run a large-scale profitable shopping destination in Manhattan.”

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There are 16 tailors on the men’s store staff — part of the largest network of tailors in North America.

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Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Nordstrom must also answer to Wall Street, where investors easily get impatient with companies that make long-term investments at the expense of profits.

Nordstrom shares have fallen about 40 percent since April 2015 and some analysts have grown frustrated with the company’s strategy. A JPMorgan analyst recently called out the company’s “inconsistent multiyear track record” on expenses and questioned the company’s predictions of increasing profits.

“We have heard this story before,” the analyst wrote in a research note.

Last June, the family — which founded the company as a shoe store in 1901 — sought shelter from the stock market.

Peter Nordstrom and his brothers Erik and Blake, the company’s three co-presidents, and their father, Bruce Nordstrom, the company’s former longtime chairman, and a few other family members set out to acquire all of the company’s shares and take the retailer private.

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