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Benjamin Epstein

Nordstrom Gives Taste of Sales to Come

May 12, 1986

The customers--600 supporters of the Orange County Performing Arts Center--seemed satisfied.

The new Nordstrom at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa doesn't officially open its doors until the this Friday, but last Friday night members of three Center support groups were allowed a glimpse of their newest shopping playground at a gala dinner and fashion show. Nordstrom underwrote the affair entirely; more than $100,000 was raised for the Center.

Located adjacent to the old store, the new structure is nearly twice its size and the largest of the 16 Nordstroms in California.

Pockets of guests accumulated in the jewelry and couture departments and at the base of the main-floor escalator. Topics of discussion included "Nordstrom fever"--it's made the 52-store chain the largest independent fashion specialty retailer in the nation--and "Nordstrom headache": Apparently, many shoppers are dizzied by the sheer amount of merchandise that often crowds the aisles.

"It was crazy," one guest said of the soon-to-be-abandoned location. "I'd walk in, I'd leave. I hope they don't over-merchandise again."

But the same woman--like so many, all in beads for the affair--said she understood the attraction. The Nordstrom racks, she said, represent "a span from Penny's to Neiman's, from Sears to Amen Wardy. It's low ball and high ball. It caters to everybody."

Nordstrom board Co-chairman Bruce Nordstrom admitted the old store was a mite crowded. "It was fabulous when we opened it," he said, "but we ran it into the ground."

The interplay of distinctive archways and mirrors lends the interior of the new structure a spacious, almost cathedral-like feel; aisles are wider. The store was elegantly stocked for the party.

"They must have a new display person," noted Pat Neisser. "Everything looks wonderful!"

According to store spokesmen, however, all the merchandise in the old store is still to be transferred to the new store between closing time Thursday and opening time the next morning, and more new merchandise is on the way.

Nordstrom was open for business at the gala, and Margo Nagle wasn't caught without her credit card. She bought shoes and a dress "for next week's party," she said.

Carol Hamilton spoke highly of Nordstrom customer service.

"I'd been at the party five minutes when I broke my heel," Hamilton related. "And there we were, right in the middle of the shoe department. My husband said, 'Well, this is an auspicious place to be right now.' The buyer for the department sat me down and brought out many pairs of shoes for me to try on. And when we settled on a pair, they wouldn't let us pay.

"Of course, tonight might be special," she added.

The couture department is new. Women's footwear will be found on all three floors; the men's footwear department will feature a shoe-shining service. (Nordstrom began in 1901 as a shoe store in Seattle.) Pianists will play daily.

As it turned out, Gloria Carras, who has four grown daughters, went to college with Bruce Nordstrom at the University of Washington.

"I haven't seen him since," Carras said. "Meanwhile, he's lost his wife, I lost my husband, both of our kids are working at the same store. . . . " Erik Nordstrom is in women's shoes, Aunie Carras in fine jewelry.

South Coast Plaza developer Henry Segerstrom and his son, Toren, chatted briefly with Bruce and Erik Nordstrom. "We're all Swedes," noted Bruce Nordstrom.

Standing nearby were board Co-chairman John Nordstrom and President Jim Nordstrom. Jim Nordstrom will speak at a "Business Lunch" benefit for public television station KOCE on Tuesday; 1,100 are expected to attend, but he's not yet sure what he'll talk about. "Have any ideas?" he asked.

The evening continued on the third floor with dinner--artichoke lotus with remoulade garnished with jumbo shrimp, rack of veal with morels--and dancing.

The fashion show, a European fall preview, took place in a tent specially erected in the parking lot; the distinctive Nordstrom arch provided the backdrop. The clothes in each segment were carefully coordinated, as were models' hair color, hairdo and even skin color.

Highlights of the production included:

- A man pulling a black panther, which was obviously traumatized, around on a leash. The tent was filled with the sounds of a Gregorian chant--the connection between the animal and the music remains elusive--and another chant intoned by many of the guests: "Poor thing!"

- The show's final segment, which is often reserved for bridal wear, was somewhat bizarre. It featured a black lace and flesh-colored sheer silk creation by British designer Judy Hornby, under which fashion coordinator Sarah Davies added a gold lame swimsuit. The model carried antlers. Overheard at valet parking: "It's what you wear when you get married for the sixth time."

The event was jointly sponsored by the Angels of the Arts, Center Stars and Performing Arts Fraternity, represented, respectively, by group presidents Barbara Bowie, JoAnn Boswell and Tom Santley, who served as steering committee chairman for the event.

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