COSTA MESA — When it comes to glitz, no one has Orange County beat.
This weekend the burgeoning city of Costa Mesa ushered in two new stores at South Coast Plaza with back-to-back mega-parties to welcome JW Robinson's and the Broadway to the mall.
On the heels of the opening of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Robinson's made its debut Friday night with a black-tie-optional bash that drew some 3,000 people who paid $60 a ticket (proceeds went to the Irvine Guild of the Performing Arts Center). Guests were greeted by violins outside, then wandered through three floors of pristine merchandise displays untouched by harried shoppers. They stopped for cocktails at the costume jewelry counter, ate raw oysters in the Liz Claiborne department and rode the escalator to the children's department for ice-cream sundaes.
The piece de resistance of the evening was a fall and holiday fashion show in the mall court that featured dancers, two Shar-Pei dogs, doves and a live pig. The pig was introduced during the denim segment, which also included a fiddler, three cloggers and a couple doing rope tricks. (One exuberant model, while in the midst of a do-si-do, launched a jar of Silver Palate Caramel Pecan Sauce out of her basket, which then smashed at the feet of some Robinson's VIPs.)
But the accent of the fashion show was on upscale urban dressing, as in dramatic black and red women's suits, a sleek two-piece Perry Ellis ivory sweater ensemble and a gray tweed Giorgio Armani pantsuit with a collarless jacket and wide-leg pants. The look for evening was opulent, with brocade jackets trimmed in gold with full satin skirts, plus gold and silver lame galore on cocktail dresses and evening gowns.
Guests gushed over the store's looks. "I'm just spellbound," said Margaret Baudry, who moved to Newport Beach from Pasadena and is equally enthusiastic about her affinity for Orange County. The life style here "is, shall we say . . . upbeat?"
There is no doubt that Robinson's has faith that Orange County likes to dress up. The store will carry a "complete couture line," according to Sarah Worman, vice president, fashion merchandising and product development for Robinson's.
"Each of our stores is really pre-planned and merchandised for the locale," she explained. "Orange County is very strong in social events."
And what of the stereotype of the unsophisticated shopper who lives "behind the Orange curtain?" "Honey," she said, "we think they're more sophisticated. Our experience in the merchandising concept of Fashion Island (in Newport Beach) is that it's definitely an upscale store. This is more upscale. The Newport Beach customer is affluent, she's aware, she travels; the world is really her oyster, we feel. And she loves quality."
While guests danced to "Twist and Shout" in the linens department, Worman ventured into the holiday dressing department. "We do a lot of p.m. dressing," she said. "The Orange County woman loves fine play clothes, and when she dresses up she really dresses up. Just look at the way people are dressed tonight--they are really splendid."
In the fur department she explained that the store will carry sheared mink, sheared beaver, lynx and sable; a good selection because "the Orange County woman is really a multi-furred woman. She has furs for fun and furs for serious living."
Saturday night it was the Broadway's turn to dazzle potential shoppers. The store is directly across from Robinson's, and both are separate, but not far from, the main mall.
As with the previous night's party, some 3,000 guests arrived on time and women brought out their furs for the balmy evening. (Tickets to this black-tie-optional event were $35, and proceeds will benefit the Cabaret Chapter of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Junior League of Newport Harbor and the South Coast Repertory Theatre.)
Fashion show vignettes and live entertainment were staged at half-hour intervals throughout the store. In juniors, young men and women modeled swimsuits and active sportswear while a bank of 16 TV screens behind them mirrored every move. Upstairs there were jewel-tone leathers and suedes on another mini-runway. One of the highlights was an appearance by the 1987 Miss America, Kellye Cash, who sang a medley of tunes in front of infant sleepwear.
A Tuxedo at the Door
This store will also cater to the Orange County life style, according to store manager Carie Pearl. Accents will be on "casual active-wear," updated menswear and a "VIP" section for upscale dressing. Merchandise will be compartmentalized into mini-boutiques for easier shopping "because the customers are telling us this is what they want."
And, she added, service will be of the utmost importance. To prove it, she said that a man had come to the party underdressed and requested a tuxedo when he got to the door. He got one.
New features the Broadway will boast in this new "super specialty store" include a Ralph Lauren Grooming Center and two cafes, one that is "a cross between a Parisian sidewalk cafe and an old-fashioned malt shop," according to the press kit.
Broadway execs did their homework before setting up this store. Exhaustive research on demographics and shoppers' habits in Orange County was done before the bricks were laid, said Lee Hogan Cass, vice president and fashion director for the Broadway. "We have found from our studies that this area is a combination of upscale people, those with a contemporary attitude and a kind of updated classic group. I've never seen a better-looking crowd at a store opening. Now how could you do anything dumb and tacky (for this store), anything that is not as wonderful as the top?"