Bloomingdale’s Santa Monica gala goes for the heart

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Bloomingdale’s opened in Santa Monica with a chic soiree Wednesday night to benefit the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute’s Women’s Heart Center. It was the first glimpse many people had gotten of the store -- one of the anchor retailers of the revamped Santa Monica Place -- which is scheduled to reopen this weekend after a two-year closure.

While the store -- in a former Macy’s space -- is small by department store standards (80,000 square feet of selling space on two levels), with an open floor plan and an industrial feel, it’s awash with light! Instead of the typical black box store, this Bloomie’s has enormous windows that look out on Colorado Boulevard and Fourth Street.


And they’ve switched up the merchandise here too -- you won’t find house wares or luggage -- the focus is on a contemporary mix, geared toward a casual, beach lifestyle, which means lots of jeans and T-shirts for women, and separates for men from preppy/Americana lines like Billy Reid, Michael Bastian, Spurr and Band of Outsiders for Sperry Top-Sider. Sunglasses get a lot of floor space, as do swim trunks by Vilebrequin. Even the display cases feel like a fresh approach; men’s accessories like Canon cameras,

Nixon watches and Jack Spade wallets are identified by names spelled out with Scrabble tiles.

A bright, tangerine-colored carpet fronting Colorado Boulevard pointed the way past a pair of lifeguard doormen and into the party which started on the ground floor, with guests sipping Grey Goose cocktails and St. Francis Wines and noshing on hors d’oeuvres by Lulu Powers among the Marc Jacobs handbags and Chanel cosmetics.

Dinner was served upstairs in the women’s department, in the shadow of the Vince fall collection, and next to a display of Hunter boots. Nearby, the “b-Style Bar” -- the store’s new personal shopping space -- gleamed like an Apple Store Genius Bar. We were told its offerings will include one-on-one consultations with stylists about trends, and video of fashion shows looping on flat-screen TVs. But for us, the coolest touch came from on high -- cabana-like fabric pod fitting rooms that drop down from the ceiling onto the sales floor.

The event drew an eclectic crowd -- including Barbra Streisand and James Brolin -- and it’s not often you can say you’ve seen Rock & Republic co-founder Michael Ball out of one eye, and Diane Keaton out of the other. Dinner kicked off with remarks from Bloomingdale’s Chairman Michael Gould and Streisand who served as the honorary event chair.

“They are going to have coffee yogurt here, my fave,” Streisand said, referring to the Forty Carrots Cafe on the store’s second level, before moving on to the more serious topic at hand. “Five hundred thousand women in the U.S. die every year of heart disease. That’s more than die from all cancers combined,” she said, making a pitch for the Women’s Heart Center. “If properly funded, this center can save lives of women around the world. Heart disease is not just a man’s disease anymore.”

She introduced Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, the Center’s cirector, who spoke of the groundbreaking research being done at her institution and others, spotlighting University of Minnesota researcher Dr. Doris Taylor, who found that female stem cells alone, not male, can grow a human heart in a petri dish.

‘The biggest challenge with growing a heart is that the cells need to be given some direction,’ she said. ‘And male stem cells tend to get lost.’ After a ripple of laughter moved through the crowd, Merz followed up with an important point.

“So in all likelihood gentlemen, when you need a new organ, or a stem cell, it will come from a woman,” she said.

The evening took a more light-hearted turn when the fashion show started. Bloomingdale’s was showing off its newest toy, a conveyor belt hanging from the ceiling on one side of the room (it looks like the kind in the back room of your local dry cleaners) that moved mannequins through the room, dangling them and their designer duds just inches above diners’ heads.

But the real show stopper was the young pianist Eric ‘Elew’ Lewis, fresh off an engagement at the White House. The performer (looking smart in white jeans, a blue linen blazer, a floral print Ike Behar shirt and flashy silver Fendi sneakers) mesmerized the crowd with his own brand of rock ‘n’ roll piano playing, cranking out versions of Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit” and the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” (which he deftly managed to meld with Vincent Guaraldi’s ‘Linus and Lucy’).

When Lewis reached his hand inside the piano to tickle the strings to create the strains of horror-movie music -- as a homage to Brolin’s starring role in the 1977 horror flick ‘The Car,’ -- even Streisand looked impressed.

Lewis was a sight to behold: biting his lower lip, rolling his eyes skyward, sweating, jamming and standing at the keys with one leg extended behind him like a sprinter on the starting block. If a single soul left the event without a song in their heart, they better sign up to have the good doctors grow them a new one.

-- Adam Tschorn and Booth Moore