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The New Face of Fifth: Populist Movement Hits Luxe Street of Retailers

When A&F and Zara join Gucci, Tiffany and Prada on Fifth Avenue, the Manhattan thoroughfare will undergo yet another transformation.

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Mexx was one of several lower-priced retailers that debuted on Fifth Avenue in recent years

Mexx was one of several lower-priced retailers that debuted on Fifth Avenue in recent years.

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — Gucci, Tiffany and Prada, say hello to your new neighbors: Abercrombie & Fitch, Zara and possibly Mango.

The purveyors of fast fashion and jeans and tops to the 18- to 22-year-old crowd are the latest (relatively) low-priced retailers to muscle their way onto Fifth Avenue, a street better known for its luxury brands.

When A&F opens next year at 720 Fifth Avenue, the thoroughfare stands to lose Fendi, one of its longtime luxe tenants. “We’ll definitely maintain a presence in New York,” said a Fendi spokeswoman, but she declined to say where.

For A&F, meanwhile, the address is a coup.

“We looked at locations all over the city,” said Mike Jeffries, the retailer’s chairman and chief executive officer. “It’s been an ongoing search. We looked at other Fifth Avenue stores and some on Madison Avenue. We had our sights set on Fifth Avenue.”

The company will pay a price for such visibility. Rents on Fifth Avenue rose 10.9 percent between March 2003, when the asking price was $646 a square foot, to March 2004, when the asking price was $717 a square foot, according to the Real Estate Board of New York. Jeffries declined to project a sales volume for the store, but said, “We have to make a lot of money.”

A&F, which will occupy the lower level, first, second and third stories of the building — a total of 17,000 square feet — is following a strategy set by its high-end predecessors in the late Nineties.

That was when Prada, Versace and Ferragamo opened large flagships on Fifth Avenue at a time when they were asserting their independence from specialty chains and establishing their own retail networks. Then, as now, a Fifth Avenue flagship was viewed as a giant billboard announcing a brand to the local shoppers and international tourists who clog the thoroughfare’s prime stretch between 49th and 59th Streets.

But in this “masstige” world, when Isaac Mizrahi designs for Target, Sam’s Club sells expensive diamonds and Oscar de la Renta launches a moderately priced collection, Fifth Avenue is becoming more of a polyglot street than ever. Nonluxury companies have started to understand the value a high-profile flagship on Fifth Avenue brings to their brand. This is especially true of firms that are consciously trying to elevate their image, such as A&F and Zara, which is soon to open a flagship on the avenue in the former Façonnable space between 54th and 55th Streets.
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