A most magical and fortunate event came the Jaunty Magpie's way -- this Bird was allowed access to a new Babylon within the Eastside lands of Bellevue. On the eve of its opening, Neiman Marcus opened its sparkling doors and provided a guided tour of their new store in The Bravern, a European-inspired luxe retail haven, whose opening has been eagerly awaited for several years. The opportunity to wander the floors of Neiman Marcus, along with other shops throughout The Bravern, made the Magpie aflutter with excitement and eager to share all her jaunty finds.
Founded in 1907, Neiman Marcus has earned the venerable reputation as a specialty department store, offering unique and luxurious pieces by upscale fashion designers. Since the 1960s, they were known for their annual Fantasy Gifts, a particularly extravagant item that is featured in their holiday catalog, including such must-have gifts as "his" and "hers" hot air balloons or a private concert with Elton John. Such distinction carries over to each department store, as it's carefully designed to represent both the Neiman Marcus brand, but also reflect its surroundings. The Pacific Northwest influenced an aesthetic that ran throughout the three floors of the new Bellevue store. Natural materials that included the asymmetric elegance of weathered boughs, a matchstick layering of branches, the gentle curve of a leaf -- the whole environment was tactile and inviting to the Northwest sensibilities. This theme incorporated well with the Neiman Marcus brand image of a butterfly, a visual key that is used throughout all their national stores. Their in-house restaurant and bar, Mariposa, means "butterfly" in Spanish, a theme that has carried them through the 1950s. Walking through the Bellevue store, one really does feel like they step out a different creature, invigorated with a sense of stylish inspiration.
Strolling the couture floor was like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass and discovering a new, exceptionally well-dressed world. Designer pieces that a Bird could only dream of seeing beyond the pages of fashion magazines were brought to life in the individual boutique sections given to each designer. Names like Escada, Giorgio Armani, Prada, and Chanel were suddenly made real. One dared not touch the items, in fear they would somehow disappear. Speaking with our guide of the tour, it was mentioned that British label, Eskandar, was newly added to the couture roster, adding yet another Pacific Northwestern-friendly note with their soft, rich sweaters.
At the foot of the escalators hangs a waterfall of translucent, silver-flecked strands of the Neiman Marcus butterflies. Nearby is an impressive modern art-like display known as the Marni Spider. Much like the spider awaiting the flutter of a stray butterfly, this spider is a modern, sculptural solution of showcasing pieces by Italian label Marni, and the designing minds behind this high concept method of presentation. The long silver arms curve down, organic shaped hangers dripping an array of the artsy, feminine pieces that have made Marni a fashion favorite for over a decade.
This appreciation for aesthetic punctuates every aspect of their retail spaces. For the Bellevue store, over 160 pieces of original art from local artists were chosen to decorate the spaces and halls throughout the store's three floors. Driven by the theme of recycled materials, their in-house curator carefully selected pieces that would appeal to the local desire for sustainability, while still creating a serene and distinctively Northwestern atmosphere. Organic shapes, layering of paints and mixed media, the art all had a theme of both human and natural touches. It was like walking through a museum. One of the artists, Dale Lindman, was on-hand to talk about his piece, Inside Passage, that is displayed downstairs, near the cosmetics department. Its palette reflects the muted and understated tonal qualities of the local weather, with a bright strip of colors down the center, as if to imply the spark of creativity that becomes a necessity in our gray-filled days.
Speaking of bright, the children's department is a little nook of sunshine. It was too adorable not to include at least a few photos. The clothing racks are designed to be smaller and accessible to children and vintage toys and smartly dressed mannequins abound. A playhouse made of cardboard is set to the side to encourage the little ones to decorate while they are surrounded with color and sparkle. Who says shopping for kid's clothes has to be boring?
An oasis from the brightness and pop of the children's department, the beauty and fragrance departments are a treat for the senses. Familiar cosmetic and perfume labels abound, but there were some exclusive scents from Creed and items from the Prada Beauty line that would not be found with other retailers. There is an in-house spa that was like finding a little hidden bungalow of calm. While I don't know if it can alleviate retail guilt, I'm sure a relaxing massage couldn't hurt.
Of course this Magpie loves all things sparkly, so the minaudiere collection by Judith Leiber immediately drew my eyes in, pulling me away from all the other selections in their handbag department. I particularly loved the Ganesha minaudiere featured under glass. Other shapes included a parrot, fruit, a dolphin, and other three dimensional bejeweled creations, but this one was so exquisite, it truly made my jaunty heart skip a beat.
More sparkle led this Bird to the jewelry department. Like a glittering Versailles, the pristine cases of glass housed gorgeous adornments and timepieces. Corner cases featured curved sculptures with jewelry draped over their forms. A soft, spherical theme ran throughout the space, with blown-glass baubles hanging from the ceiling and bubbly forms within the display cases. It felt like the magical glass elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where one need only make a wish and it could transport you anywhere.
Near the entrance to the bar and restaurant, Mariposa, one passes through the menagerie of luxurious finery for the home. Displays of formal table settings, servingware, and gilded items of all sorts were up for admiring upon shelves and tables. The tablescapes set up to show collections in a finished placesetting were a sight to behold. The multicolored chandeliers were particularly gaze-worthy. The color palette of the department warm and inviting, which was a welcoming presence amid the formal pieces.
Always saving the best for last, this Bird lingered in the holy alcove of the shoe department. It was as if they knew the Jaunty Magpie would be there, having set up an elegant nest theme of twig-like sculptural elements throughout the floor. This Bird truly felt like she had come home to roost. Chatting with other tour guests, we were giddy with excitement over the jewel-like shoes displayed on the dark wood pedestals. Dear Santa, this Bird has been ever so good this year... The collection of Louboutins were a sight to behold. Like discovering the lost mines of King Solomon, the bejeweled, satin and leather treasures all sat bathed in perfect lighting, in pristine displays. Housed in a truly perfect salon of stylish luxury, this Bird is already planning another visit with these lovely gems in the Neiman Marcus crown.
A sincere and Jaunty Merci! to The Bravern and the Neiman Marcus team for organizing and leading the press tour, allowing this Bird to join the rest of the fancy flock to view the new store before it officially opens. Special thanks to artist Dale Lindman for providing a photo of his piece, the Inside Passage. Look for an upcoming post about The Bravern shop preview very soon, as well as a post in the foodie big-sister blog, Wasabi Prime, featuring the new restaurants opening. Stay Jaunty!