They are some of the most hallowed names in extreme high-end retail: Cartier ($25,000 watches), MaxMara ($8,000 mink coats), Barneys New York ($350 denim jackets).
With their luxury siblings -- Dior, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, and Tiffany & Co. -- they are setting up boutiques at a $165 million development on Wisconsin Avenue that retailers, depending on their affinity for various shopping meccas, are comparing to Rodeo Drive or Madison Avenue or Michigan Avenue.
Whatever the preference, the two new multistory buildings going up between Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus -- formally, the project is called the Collection at Chevy Chase -- will be something this region has never seen, a critical mass of luxury retailers, some of whom are coughing up an unheard-of $150 per square foot in rent to tap this area's growing wealth.
"There's never truly been a concentration of top-tier luxury stores in this area," said Edward Hall Asher, president of the project's developer, the Chevy Chase Land Co., which has owned much of the neighborhood's land for 115 years. "This was always a government town, a Brooks Brothers town, for a very long time."
Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, agreed, under somewhat different terms. "This old preconception about Washington women being stuck in Dacron suits with tie-neck blouses is completely irrelevant now," he said. "There are just as many groovy women in the Washington area as there are in any other urban area."
And real estate and retail observers say Chevy Chase, just across the border from the District in Montgomery County, is the natural place for the stores to congregate. For starters, the area has always had an upscale feel, with Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, the Mazza Gallerie mall and a small Cartier store.
"Chevy Chase has always had a very elite, very influential reputation in the retail world," said Larry Horton, a New York leasing consultant known in the industry as "Luxury Larry." "There is a history of wealth there that is well known."
Within three miles of the project, parts of which will open in October, the average income is about $87,000, with some 90 percent of residents employed in white-collar jobs.
But with a real estate boom and high incomes generated by technology firms and government contracting, that wealth has also spread to Bethesda, North Bethesda, Rockville and into northern parts of the county.
The development theory: These people have money to burn, so let's give them one place to do it.
"These people love beautiful objects, and they are very generous," said Stanislas de Quercize, the chief executive of Cartier North America. "They are all generous and all in love. They want to say to somebody, 'You're my friend, you're my love.' "
At the Cartier store, one can do that with a $650,000 watch encrusted in rock crystal and diamonds.
The challenge for the developers was to make the Collection at Chevy Chase, which measures about 112,000 square feet, a distinctive shopping destination that at the same time hews to traditional notions of how luxury retailers like to do business.
So the developers, with an architect from Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc., traveled to Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. What they found, when they looked closely, was that the luxury retailers were generally in one place, with unique multistory storefronts that helped create a sophisticated neighborhood feel.
"It couldn't look like a strip mall," said William Hellmuth, a principal at the architectural firm. "It needs to look like a series of buildings that could have been built over time but happen to be built at the same time." He added, "What we wanted to do, in a very authentic way, was allow each one of the retailers to have their own expression and essentially to create their own experience."
So Cartier, which is moving from a smaller location across the street, will have a storefront that will be encased in bronze. Inside, the company is replicating a new prototype store that debuted in Honolulu, with understated and elegant touches that give the impression of an extremely modern living room.
The Ralph Lauren store -- the biggest of all the retailers, at 16,045 square feet -- will have a mansionlike feel, complete with working fireplaces, similar to its Madison Avenue flagship store in New York. There will even be small balconies outside the second-story windows.
"This project is going to be an incredible retail location," said Diane Ray Brown, a vice president at Tiffany, which is moving from its somewhat cramped store across the street to one with a more open feel.
And the retailers have sales hopes that include multiple commas. Iraklis Karabassis, a consultant to the developers and the licensee for the new MaxMara shop, said in the first year alone he expected to do $4 million in business selling clothing and another $4 million or so with the store's cafe and Italian restaurant.
A suit for women: up to $1,400. An entree: about $30.
"There's not much question about whether they will be successful," said Len Harris, a retail broker at Transwestern Commercial Services. "They will be."
Hellmuth has even planned an urban retreat between the two retail buildings. Inspired by Paley Park in New York City -- a tiny, pristine enclave tucked into an area between Madison and Fifth avenues -- Hellmuth's 9,000-square-foot park will feature rock sculptures by California-based artist Richard Deutsch.
One of several elevators from a 1,150-space underground parking garage will open right into the garden. An adjacent Clyde's restaurant was given a face-lift. The developers also are building a 200,000-square-foot office complex nearby, which will be occupied by the Mills Corp., which is moving its headquarters from Arlington.
The stretch of land has come a long way since Francis G. Newlands, who would later become a U.S. senator from Nevada, founded the Chevy Chase Land Co. in 1890.
"He saw a suburb to the west," said Asher, who now runs the company. "So whether it was luck or whether it was smarts, I don't know which, but it turned out pretty good."
And to think: Newlands died during World War I, thinking he'd been a failure.