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With new management ensconced, decisions on the store's rebuilding moved forward, though the company actually decided back in 1997 to remodel the entire store and update its turn-of-the-century town house character. While there have been several management changes since then, and different visions and decisions on how to rebuild, the current team said the protracted nature of the project is more a factor of its scope and magnitude and the complicated character of retail restorations.
"Renovations in a retail environment like this take so long. Each floor has to be done in phases, and takes 16 months to complete," said Gold.
The objectives are multifold, Gold stressed: "To make a different aesthetic impression, change the adjacencies, resize businesses and rethink the layout to ultimately make the floors more productive. It's a very expensive endeavor, but we are getting a return on our investment. We can keep the business going without missing a beat. We have not had decreases on any of the floors.
"From a design standpoint, we want to be very true to the classic heritage of the store, but infuse modern design throughout the building."
Further complicating the project are the various constituencies involved. "It's like riding shotgun with a cattle prod," said Stephen Joseph, Bergdorf's vice president of store design and planning and construction, who must marry the interests of fashion designers, merchants, architects, design consultants and financial and operations executives. "Everybody wants something," he said. "It's like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, to make it all happen. Ultimately, the total vision is achieved."
As far as how much impact fashion designers have in creating their shops, "the rules change depending on the floor," Joseph said. On the second level, for example, the designer signature is very evident. On one, five and eventually three, it's more about Bergdorf's asserting its personality.
Bergdorf's, on Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets, was originally a mansion built in 1928 and intended to be rented out as seven different shops in the event the economy tanked. Bergdorf's moved into one of the spaces and expanded into the others over the years. Its men's business moved to a separate site on the opposite side of Fifth Avenue in 1990, opening the way for an expanded women's business.