People working behind the scenes at the mall talk about yoga as though it's the secret code word for entry into the community. Yoga classes could be held on the upper deck of the mall overlooking the ocean, one executive suggested, or in the Bloomingdale's b-Style Bar, where stylists stand at the ready to help you shop. (Because stylists are apparently another thing we West Coasters are into.)
Developers are even trying to re-create the weekly feel-good food-grazing ritual so popular in these parts by putting a faux farmer's market on the third-level dining deck, with independently owned purveyors of cheese, bread and chocolate. (It will open later this year.)
In many ways, Santa Monica Place is a reversal of the last decade's global retail approach, which gave us cookie-cutter commerce from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to the Ginza in Tokyo. Now that you can shop for anything online, retailers have to give shoppers a reason to leave the house. So they are striving to create more localized, community-oriented experiences. And it appears to be working, at least for Macy's, which earlier this month reported a 4.9% uptick in second-quarter same-store sales over the same period last year, following a new strategy of tailoring its merchandise assortment to individual stores' customer preferences.
Many of Santa Monica Place's tenants are brands based in California. There's a Joe's Jeans store, which has mannequins floating in a marvelous glass aquarium full of stuffed animals. And a BCBG boutique — one of the nicest I've seen — that has an open, airy space with cottage-like wood floors and judicious merchandising that really elevates the clothes.
Skechers opened its first store devoted solely to Shape-Up shoes, those heinous curve-soled clodhoppers that make you feel like you're walking on a balance board. Who knew there were so many styles? Resistance-training Shape-Ups, all-terrain Shape-Ups, Shape-Up sandals, Mary Janes and flip-flops. Kids' Shape-Ups. But alas, no yoga Shape-Ups. (If you prefer to actually train instead of tone, there's a Nike store next door.)
Kitson, the L.A.-centric chainlet made famous by Paris Hilton and her paparazzi-baiting ilk, may have landed its best location yet — at the crossroads of the mall and the Third Street Promenade. How could a tourist en route to the pier pass up a kitschy piece of paradise such as the book "Stupid in California" or a tumbler that reads, "Bring the Jet Around"?
The second level of the mall is a sea of allowance-friendly teen indulgences, beginning with the store Love Culture. Started by two former employees of Forever 21, this is the kind of place where you score heart-shape sunglasses and "I Love My Boyfriend" T-shirts. Across the way, Charlotte Russe has had a makeover in an apparent effort to become more competitive with Forever 21. (Think $22 sparkly Breton-stripe sweaters and a $22.50 riff on a quilted Chanel bag done in gray sweatshirt material.)
Even the mall's non-California-based tenants seem to have taken into account Santa Monica's easygoing lifestyle. The Burberry store only sells the luxury brand's sporty Brit collection, which is heavy on denim and casual shirts. Bloomingdale's, which seems to be following the localized strategy of parent company Macy's, has a wall of flip-flops as you enter and an array of men's Vilebrequin swim trunks, even though in the retail world, we're already well past summer and careening into fall.
With just 81,000 square feet of selling space, this Bloomingdale's is a department store that feels like anything but. It doesn't carry children's, petites or high-end designer clothing, but it does have lots of those long, drapey cardigans that Jennifer Aniston wears, by Vince, Joie and Elizabeth & James.
The décor is different too. Instead of city slicker references to the Bloomingdale's mother ship on 59th Street in Manhattan, a sign over the door leading to the mall says, "This way to the beach."
There are jeans for every bottom at Santa Monica Place. "Spiral fit" at All Saints Spitalfields, cargo fit by Current / Elliott at Barneys Co-Op, "soft and raw" by Acne at Bloomingdale's. But if you don't fancy a wardrobe in blue, your options could be limited. There are some dressier togs at Hugo Boss and White House / Black Market (which, by the way, isn't all black-and-white). And Tory Burch and Nordstrom open later this month.
Still, at a time when shopping can often seem like too much of everything and a whole lot of nothing, it's refreshing to see a mall with a point of view. And if you are a yoga lover living in Santa Monica, you might feel like they've rolled out the mat just for you.