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At New York Fashion Week, where to see and be seen
[NEW YORK] Fashion may be a sprawling global industry but in many ways it can feel a lot like a high school, with its own cliques, pecking order, hangouts — and cafeteria.
For years, the last role has been played in Paris by L'Avenue, a brasserie on Avenue Montaigne cater-corner from Dior's warren of dove gray salons and just down the street from the headquarters of Dior's parent company, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and the star-magnet hotel that is the Plaza Athénée. Run by the Costes family, owners of the Beaumarly hospitality group, it has made something of an art out of catering to the style/celebrity industrial complex in the sort of offhand way that requires enormous amounts of care and concentration. Go for tea and — look, Sidney Toledano, head of the LVMH Fashion Group! Head upstairs to the bathroom and — hey, the supermodel Joan Smalls! Turn your head and — oh, Delphine Arnault, executive vice president of Louis Vuitton and LVMH heir. Order a spritz and — hello, Rihanna.
And now L'Avenue has come to New York.
Just in time for New York Fashion Week, L'Avenue at Saks — the first American outpost of the Costes empire — is scheduled to open Monday on the eighth and ninth floors of the department store's renovated flagship, across from Rockefeller Center. The jewel in the Saks' crown, the restaurant/bar/salon is a clear reflection of the way the store wants to be positioned in the coming retail battle for New York: the fashion insiders' power hub, a de facto meeting place for the style elite — and those who would like to be.
So will it work?
The first test came last week, when Marc Metrick, the Saks president, was host of an unofficial opening dinner for designers and assorted other fashion folk (plus Jessica Chastain and her husband, Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo). Joseph Altuzarra was there, as was Wes Gordon of Carolina Herrera with model Grace Elizabeth; Kim Jones of Dior Men stopped by, as did Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim from Oscar de la Renta. Olivia Palermo, the front row fixture, showed up, and so did Selby Drummond, the former Vogue editor tasked with connecting Snapchat and fashion, and so on.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but it doesn't feel like a department store restaurant," Alina Cho, the journalist and CBS contributor, said to Helena Foulkes, chief executive of Hudson's Bay Co., which owns Saks. Cho often goes to L'Avenue in Paris, so she was interested to see how the ethos had translated. "I love the fries," she said.
The menu in New York is pretty much the same as the menu in Paris: a skinny-meets-comfort food mix of Asian and French basics that reflects fashion tastes more than foodie ones. Think Vietnamese-style spring rolls and steak tartare and shrimp risotto. Metrick said he did encourage the Costeses to add a few items that appeal to New York palates, like a chopped salad. Not that that really matters all that much.
The food has never been the point in Costes restaurants. "It's the people-watching," said Cho, who added, "Sitting on the terrace for lunch at L'Avenue has been a Paris ritual for as long as I can remember. It's an institution."
Designed by Philippe Starck, who masterminded the Costes' first venture, Café Costes in Les Halles, L'Avenue at Saks covers almost 16,000 square feet and has its own entrance, for customers who find the idea of handbags as an amuse-bouche kind of distasteful.
The eighth floor (which used to be the Café SFA, the dining equivalent of the store's shopping bags) has been transformed into Le Chalet, a bar modeled on an alpine lodge, with logs "procured from Europe" (as the fact sheet said) running the length of the ceiling, a stone wall and a scattering of mismatched faded floral couches. There's a kind of reading room with old china cups hanging from the eaves, and a balcony that will be open in the summer with views over Rockefeller Plaza.
Up a curved staircase backed by a shelf lined in vintage French books is the main event (in a space that used to be a stockroom): another bar with sofas and chairs scattered about, and, at the rear, a restaurant that seats 181.
Between the tables are large glass vitrines containing random objects that Starck collected at various flea markets over the past year; a long hallway to the elevator is lined with a stained glass installation by his daughter, artist Ara Starck (who also made some of the throw pillows). The general feel is charming but exclusive, like a club that might — or might not — admit you, which is the hook.
"I was really positively surprised," said Olivier Bialobos, the chief communications officer of Dior, who happened to be in town and came to the dinner. He said he liked the way the décor was "friendly and cozy at the same time." When he's in Paris, Bialobos said, he's at L'Avenue an average of twice a week. As for the New York version: "I will go again," he said.
"You never think New York needs another restaurant," Cho said, "until a great one comes along."
Did she think the same kind of people who are regulars in Paris would flock to the New York L'Avenue? Cho said she thought she would go back during fashion week. "So that would be yes."