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The Luxe Starts Here

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 27, 2006

The white Christian Dior gaucho bag favored by Demi Moore and Cameron Diaz was sold out. But the denim-and-calf-leather version was still sitting under a spotlight at the label's new boutique in Chevy Chase, beckoning to fashionistas with $1,725 to spend.

Charge card still not maxed out? Head next door to Barneys New York Co-Op, Gucci or Louis Vuitton -- all part of the Collection at Chevy Chase, the latest outpost of luxury retail in the traditionally stodgy and sensible Washington area.

The region's booming wealth has transformed the shopping landscape. Fairfax Square raised the bar when it brought in big names like Hermes in the 1990s, and nearby Tysons Galleria has added upscale stores like Salvatore Ferragamo over the past three years. The $70 million stretch of M Street known as Cady's Alley in Georgetown is the destination for high-end home furnishings, and upscale clothing stores have burst forth like so many cherry blossoms in the neighborhood.

With the grand opening of the Collection at Chevy Chase in May, the trifecta will be complete. The Dior boutique is the first in Washington. The MaxMara apparel and accessories store is one of the largest in the world. And the Jimmy Choo shoe boutique allows Washington women to live out their "Sex and the City" dreams.

"I think we're really changing," said Aba Kwawu, who runs the Aba Agency, a District-based fashion consulting and marketing firm. "It feels as if we went to bed one day and we woke up cool."

Still, such excess can seem out of place in a city where the mayor wears bowties and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's knee-high boots set off a fashion controversy. Even the most ardent shopaholics concede that Washington is still several steps behind New York or Los Angeles.

"Personally, I don't know how well those places are going to do," said Lindsay Buscher, founder of the local Urban Chic boutique. "It would be nice to see things like that can survive outside of a big city. . . . Gucci and Versace, they're tough names for people who live outside of Manhattan."

'Super Luxe'

Chevy Chase Land Co. President and Chief Operating Officer Edward H. Asher once had very different plans for the 112,000 square feet of land north of Wisconsin and Western avenues, just outside the D.C. line.

The development and property management firm had owned the land for more than a century, but the buildings on it had long been vacant. Asher had thought about creating a "lifestyle" hub with retailers such as Bed, Bath & Beyond and REI. But then Iraklis Karabassis entered the picture.

He wanted to buy the land in 2001 to build a new MaxMara store and eventually lure other high-end European retailers. Karabassis and his wife, Yasmine, already were operating a MaxMara in Tysons Galleria and had several United Colors of Bennetton and Sisley apparel stores. Though the Chevy Chase Land Co. rejected his purchase request, it was sold on his retail ideas.

"We can keep it super luxe," Karabassis said. "I think the Washington area and Chevy Chase needs that."

Buoyed by neighbors Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, along with shops such as Saks Jandel, Karabassis and the developers made their pitch to fashion's top names: Barneys New York Co-Op, Bulgari, Dior, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, MaxMara and Ralph Lauren. Cartier and Tiffany & Co. simply moved their stores into the Collection from across the street, creating Washington's compact equivalent of Rodeo Drive.

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