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Italian Flavor at Atrium Court : Fashion Island Unveils 28 Stores at Gala

With a Bip, an (ixi:z) and a Ylang-Ylang--and three days of assorted fanfares and sundry huzzahs--the 28 specialty stores making up Atrium Court in Newport Center Fashion Island officially opened their doors last weekend.

Capacity crowds converged on Atrium Court, the new hub of the upscale shopping mall, for a first glimpse of the shops--Bip, (ixi:z) and Ylang-Ylang among them--and a “Venetian Holiday”: continuous pageantry, giveaways and diverse entertainments such as Guido the Singing Gondolier and Giovanni’s Strolling Strings.

The festivities began Thursday night with several individual shop openings. Friday, Tom Nielsen, president of the Irvine Co., which owns the center, helped slice a huge cake in the shape of Atrium Court for thousands attending the ribbon cutting.

Gala Dinner

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Saturday night in a specially erected tent, more than 1,000 civic and community leaders and store principals attended a gala dinner featuring performances by the San Francisco Opera Center Company (selections from “The Barber of Seville”) and the first, albeit abbreviated, showings in the United States of three Italian spring lines.

The $33-million, 160,000-square-foot Atrium Court resembles a Mediterranean palazzo. Pink Cantara stone columns reach up three levels to nine skylights. The travertine marble flooring on the upper two levels is accented by verde Issorie and rosa Alicante marbles bordered by black Andes granite.

One local at the gala said she wasn’t so sure marble was such a good idea.

“All that sound bouncing off all that marble makes it difficult to hear sometimes,” she said. “But I love the place. I love the sense of human vitality (in Atrium Court), even though it might be expensive as hell. It’s like a downtown. You have that same sense of human energy, activity, the human pulse.”

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The competition gave due credit.

“It really is beautiful,” said Maura Eggan, marketing director of South Coast Plaza, the county’s most profitable mall, located in neighboring Costa Mesa. “Very elegant.”

Bip and (ixi:z) notwithstanding--they feature casual sportswear from France and Japan respectively--the so-called Fashion Island “Renaissance” represents something of an Italian invasion: One quarter of the stores--among them Fiorucci, DiVarese, Selvaggio, Ellesse and Paul Mayer Serena d’Italia--feature Italian fashions.

Guests at the dinner offered ideas about the influx of Italian boutiques to Southern California.

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“There’s a lot of Middle Eastern money going through Italy these days,” ventured one Fashion Island employee in hushed tones.

But Umberto Angeloni, president of Brioni worldwide, whose menswear is featured at Cuzzens, had another explanation.

“The Italians have always been good designers and good tailors,” said the 33-year-old Angeloni, “but perhaps less well-organized, and perhaps less able to promote things than the French.

Around-the-Clock Work

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“Italian wines are just as good as French wines, for example, if not better. But we’ve never been able to promote them the right way. Now, the new generation is studying business along with design in college. We are becoming good managers. We come to fashion with an approach to grow.”

The Irvine Co. has increased its renovation budget from what was originally $20 million to $116 million--with good reason: Sales at the mall have already increased by a whopping one-third since the Irvine Ranch Farmers Market, which has become something of a tourist attraction and one of Southern California’s hottest lunch spots, opened six months ago.

Nielsen admitted he was surprised by the impact of the market on the mall.

“Nobody anticipated there would be so much demand for the prepared food services,” he said. “People really seem to enjoy the atmosphere, and we’ve had to find ways to accommodate them. It’s very much affected the entire center in terms of traffic coming into the center and people staying longer.

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“You always project what will happen. But nobody expected it to happen so quickly .”

Among the food concessions that opened on the market level in May were Italian bakery Il Fornaio and Max Gourmandise, which features desserts from Max au Triangle; deli items arrive daily from L’Ermitage restaurant. The new Alan Austin, Ylang-Ylang, Theodore and Theodore Man boutiques on the upper levels strengthen the Beverly Hills connection.

Twenty more shops are scheduled to open in the Atrium by spring, and the city of Newport Beach has approved the next phase of the “Renaissance,” to get under way in February, 60,000 square feet of shops near Neiman-Marcus.

“Atrium Court is just the beginning,” promised David Mudgett, president of the Irvine Retail Properties Co.

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Designs from the spring line of Marquese Emilio Pucci, who attended the dinner, were shown in vignette along with those of Krizia and Brioni menswear. (Pucci’s fashions will be carried at Antonio Buttaro, which could not open in time for the gala.)

Pucci described his spring line as “always funny things, people like mermaids, scuba diving and water-skiing.” Shown, however, were nothing of the sort, but rather airy, colorful, floral-patterned designs gracefully ballooning or flaring at the bottoms.

Fashion Philosophy Expressed

Pucci shared his fashion philosophy and a forecast during dinner.

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“People are looking for something that will atone for all the dreariness, all the international unrest and so on that exists today,” he said. “They want to be lifted out of that. Fashion is one of the answers--Italian fashion especially, because we smile more at life.

“The move today is away from clothes made without knowledge of the human figure, that hang on you as if you were a hanger--the hobo look, I call it. Human beings should not look like a hippopotamus rolling in mud. There has been a feeling that people should look ridiculous, wear oversized clothes, multicolored, often badly made.

“Look at the architecture around us here. It is not like a slum. Those were clothes for a slum--a ‘slummish’ fashion. This trend is coming to an end now. Now I think you will see clothes more like the architecture in Fashion Island.”


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