When a grand dame gets a makeover, it’s risky business. Sometimes the urgency to be newly relevant results in the loss of what was special in the first place. Happily, the new Beauty floor at the New York City flagship of Saks Fifth Avenue has achieved exactly what one might hope: it’s what the beauty department used to be – only much, much better. We paid a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, and this is what we saw.
a visit to the new saks fifth avenue beauty floor in new york
We visited the second floor aerie after it had been open about a week, during a weekday afternoon, unsure of what we’d find. We’d read about smart mirrors, facial gymnastics, and new brands. But we’ve all seen renovations that are over-hyped and under-whelming. So with our skepticism intact, we ventured into the new space.
Here’s what we saw.
a beauty concierge desk
First, there’s a sleek concierge desk that’s the demarcation line between the jewelry section and the beauty section. Behind it were two half-walls of fun pink girly Mylar balloon flowers; a row of artfully arranged mirrors; and bouquets of white hydrangeas.
What all of this signaled to us was: feel free to play, to let your inner little kid out, but rest assured, we’re still elegant and if you need information, we’re here. Not bad for the first 30 seconds!
Sure, the purists will say that the balloons are inelegant, but we actually liked the idea that the mood was like a birthday party for a friend that you really like — a little bit homemade, a little bit glam, and totally welcoming.
lots of new luxury beauty brands
Intrigued, we ventured into the space, moving counterclockwise around the perimeter. We quickly saw that there are many more beauty brands than Saks used to carry. More ultra-luxurious ones (Natura Bisse), but also more niche ones (Ex Nihlo) and more cool-girl ones (Aesop!)
Each brand has its own shop-in-shop boutique, with brand-specific environments and knowledgeable staff. It reminded us of the fun of Le Bon Marché in Paris, where you almost feel that you’re outdoors strolling along a street of individual proprietorships, with the convenience and comfort of being in a luxury department store.
Unlike most Manhattan spaces, this one is luxuriously spacious and uncluttered. The ceilings are high, the aisles are wide, and there’s freedom to move around with your own personal space inviolate. Also unlike many Manhattan spaces, this one isn’t fussy, or intimidating, or aggressive. You can take your time and follow your nose — the brands will wait for you to come to them.
At Keihl’s the doctor was in the house.
Sisley exuded a chic Parisian vibe.
At Le Labo, the test tubes stood ready to create bespoke fragrances.
Meanwhile, at Hermes there was a brilliant rainbow.
Louboutin was a dream of pink and brilliant red.
Also in the house? Chanel, Gucci, Frederick Malle, Clive Christian and Armani.
a party vibe
Over time, the vibe was got as we strolled the floor was an interesting one: it felt almost like being in a well-appointed women’s college dorm. There were busy Manhattan boss ladies briskly purchasing replenishment supplies of their go-to brands. Other solo shoppers were in less of a hurry, and taking time to sample, wander and reflect. Pairs and trios of friends and family members – likely tourists – were laughing, talking, and sharing likes and dislikes as they roamed.
It was . . . good girly fun. Much more so than we expected. Actually, it was like Sephora, only more luxurious.
Part of that feeling was because we weren’t constantly accosted with someone trying to sell us something. We love you, Bergdorf’s, but we find your beauty level incredibly stressful. Too much pressure, and not enough playfulness.
lots of natural light . . . and a wonderful view
Another reason we found ourselves liking this space more and more as we went further in? As we approached the Fifth Avenue side of the floor, natural light streamed in from a wall of windows that look out over Fifth and the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Plaza.
The natural light is surprising and welcome – like Barney’s, the space just feels more relaxed because the light is not solely artificial. And when you do finally reach the windows, you’re rewarded with an iconic view of the city: taxis, buses and pedestrians streaming by just one floor below you, Rock Center arrayed before you in its Art Deco splendor. We’ve lived in New York for a long time now, and we’re still not tired of that magnificent view. Can you imagine what its going to be like during December when the tree is up?
new discoveries and hidden treasures
The third reason we think this format might a winner is that it’s a treasure hunt of the first order. We found a Face Gym – we’ll have to return to fully understand how all that works, but’s basically a workout designed to reduce lines and wrinkles. We stumbled across The Hotel Couture, a line of personal and home fragrances based on the scents of a number of leading 5-star hotels. We discovered a new offering from Guerlain fragrances that will make for a perfect gift come holiday time. If you love shopping, and you’re open for whatever’s new, you’re going to love this space.
About Guerlain, by the way. You can choose a faceted fragrance bottle in a wide array of colors, engrave it with a brief message of your choosing, and then concoct your own fragrance from the “fountains” at the rear of the shop. We particularly loved the “Marry Me” one. Promposal, anyone?
The customized fragrance idea is not new, of course – but this Guerlain shop is an interesting execution of the concept that we’ll be back to try out come gift-giving season.
so. much. fun.
All in all, we’d highly recommend a visit to this playground. You’re almost certain to have a pleasant stroll. And you might find something really delightful. It’s a joyful beauty garden in a big city –and it’ll temporarily transport you to a lovely place.
Well played, Saks. Retail may still have some life in it after all. We’ll be back.
see luxury in a new light
Come and join our community! For a weekly round-up of insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier Sunday Read here. And see luxury in a new light.
ready to power up?
Join our community
For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. And see luxury in a new light.