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Eric Feigenbaum

The Touchstone of the Brand and the Cornerstone of Culture

From the galleries of world-renowned museums to the windows and aisles of Bloomingdale’s, culture is on full display

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THE YEAR WAS 1928 and Dorothy Shaver started a retail revolution – one that still rings true today. In addition to being one of the first women appointed to head a major department store, she staged a grand exhibition of modern French decorative arts at Lord & Taylor. Her vision as president of the venerable Fifth Avenue emporium was to cultivate a connection between the art world, manufacturing and retail. The overarching goal was to bring fashion, culture and art to the general public. Through her vision, she enriched and significantly altered the course of modern merchandising.

Through her vision, she forged an indelible relationship between commerce and culture, and it became clear that there was an overlapping purpose between the vaulted halls of the grandest of museums and the show windows and main aisles of the most well-branded retail environments. Both kinds of venues are stages for disseminating information and storytelling. Both house and display objects of interest, and both employ similar techniques and tools to move the emotions of the viewer. The visceral experience of walking through a museum gallery or a center core retail aisle communicates a quality message while informing visitors about information that the curator or the merchandiser wants them to learn. A dialogue is established in carefully designed and developed environments, all within a spatial experience.

The Touchstone of the Brand and the Cornerstone of Culture

In an article dated July 6, 1979, The New York Times announced that Bloomingdale’s signed an agreement with China to undertake a major promotion of Chinese textiles, jewelry and home furnishings in the United States. The accord was signed by Marvin S. Traub, then the chairman of the esteemed New York department store. Mr. Traub, who had been negotiating with Chinese officials for days, announced that the promotion would occur concurrently in all of Bloomingdale’s 13 stores.

Under Traub’s leadership, Bloomingdale’s became an unofficial ambassador of foreign affairs and cooperation. The highly respected Mr. Traub was legendary for sharing and saluting the splendors of different cultures within the halls of Bloomingdale’s. Throughout his career, he staged grand cultural celebrations featuring places as far away as China, Italy, France, Portugal, Ireland and Israel. Through his vision, Traub brought international theater into the retail environment.

Much like Shaver, Traub positioned the grand retail space on Lexington Avenue into a museum of sorts. Under his watch, buyers traveled the world in search of exclusive, one-of-a-kind items. Traub’s international collections and presentations became a touchstone of the Bloomingdale’s brand with curated storewide events based on the richness of global cultures and traditions. For each event, the Lexington Avenue windows, under the direction over the years of industry icons such as Candy Pratts Price and Colin Birch, were decked out in the flavors of the featured country, with groupings of merchandise found within the store. The tradition continues today as the venerable retail giant honored Chinese culture and tradition with its annual Lunar New Year Celebration.

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The Touchstone of the Brand and the Cornerstone of Culture

Bloomingdale’s celebrated The Year of the Dragon this year with a beautifully designed Lunar New Year shop on the main floor of its 59th Street flagship. Resplendent in red, an important color in Chinese culture, the shop featured two dragons wending their way overhead in a serpentine-like fashion through the space. The merchandise offerings featured luxe curations of accessories, jackets, tops, limited-edition beauty products, handbags, picture frames, spices and candles.

Bloomingdale’s salute to Chinese culture was boldly announced in the Lexington Avenue show windows, also bathed in traditional red. The mannequins showcased in its windows, radiant in red designer dresses, completed the color story. The celebration continued immediately upon entrance into the store, where visitors were greeted by a series of hanging lanterns positioned in rhythmic repetition and golden dragon heads enhancing groupings of mannequins. Chinese-inspired merchandise wasn’t limited to the main floor shop – instead, it was throughout with Baccarat crystal dragons in the gift department, groupings of handbags on the balcony and shoes on level five.

In what appears to be simply a merchandising moment, Bloomingdale’s clearly demonstrated that fashion, art and culture are spiritually united; time-honored barometers, measuring the pulse of society, and the heartbeat of culture. The flagship on 59th Street and Lexington Avenue is a much-needed bridge to understanding, respect and the coming together of a beautiful tapestry intertwined with culture and tradition.

PHOTO GALLERY (14 IMAGES)
📷 Eric Feigenbaum

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