At Pentagon City, luxury is ‘aspirational’


Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR CAPITAL BUSINESS)

The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, long a teenage hangout populated with stores such as Forever 21 and Finish Line, is growing up.

As the economy improves and consumer spending rebounds, the Arlington mall is shifting its focus toward attracting higher-end brands such as Tumi.­­

It seems to be working.

Last year, a dozen new retailers, including Kate Spade, Bose and Oakley opened shops at the mall. Coach picked the Fashion Centre as the site of its first store to carry both men’s and women’s lines. Even the food court, which is filled with fast-food staples such as Popeyes and Taco Bell, got a boost when Chipotle opened there last year.

“We’re rearranging,” said Todd Jerscheid, a spokesman for the mall. “We’re changing the furniture, if you will.”

Laura Indingaro checks out purses at Kate Spade. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR CAPITAL BUSINESS)

Five or six years ago, before the recession hit, there were cries that traditional shopping malls were heading toward extinction. Open-air malls and multi-use developments were touted as the future of retail.

Then the economy collapsed, all but halting new projects. Some malls began closing as retailers shuttered their doors.

Today, as the economy swings back to health, shopping malls are experiencing a resurgence. Consumers are willing to open their wallets again, and retailers are looking to expand.

“Ever since malls started being built, people have been predicting their demise,” said Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. “But there are malls in certain regions that have rebounded quiet nicely from the recession — and a lot of that has to do with national chains looking to expand again.”

Indeed, Tysons Corner Center welcomed Spanx and C. Wonder last year. Westfield Montgomery added a Stuart Weitzman store last week, and Chevy Chase Pavilion is undergoing a $34 million renovation that will house a new H&M store when it reopens later this year.

To keep up with increasing demand — and to attract even more high-end retailers — the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City has carved out a “luxury” wing of sorts. Higher-end stores are sandwiched between Nordstrom and Apple, while less flashy brands have been relocated to other areas in the mall.

The Limited, a mid-tier women’s clothing chain, was moved to a new wing to make room for Oakley, Sperry Top-Sider and Cole Haan. Aeropostale, a retailer that caters mostly to teens, departed.

“Aeropostale would love to come back,” Jerscheid said. “But that was the space Microsoft wanted, so that’s how it works.”

The shake-up has been a balancing act of sorts for the Fashion Centre, which is connected to both the Pentagon City Metro station and a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Go too high-end, and risk alienating the crowds that rely on public transportation to get to the mall. Veer too far in the other direction, and be written off by government contractors and other professionals who work nearby.

“We have a niche and it’s a very specific niche,” Jerscheid said. “It’s not the very high-end that you would find at Tysons. We’re calling it ‘aspirational luxury.’”

Mezlan, a men’s shoe store that sells $725 loafers and $1,250 boots, opened an outpost at the mall late last year. The company spent a few years looking for the perfect location, said Jeffrey Steinhardt, director of retail for Mezlan.

“Even though it may not have all of the high-end stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton that Tysons [Galleria] does, it’s a hidden gem,” Steinhardt said. “Over time, we think it’s going to be a real institution.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local retail, hospitality and banking for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.

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