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Changes on the Upswing at Fashion Island, Where Upscale Becoming 'Yupscale'

November 13, 1987|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | For The Times

It doesn't look much like a shopping center. With its terra-cotta tiles leading shoppers from plaza to plaza, Fashion Island in Newport Beach feels more like a sun-drenched Spanish zocalo, or plaza. Which is why it's a good place to drag those Dagwoods who hate to shop.

Salmon stucco, tile roofs and pale green trimming provide a soothing backdrop to the Fashion Island shopping experience, which can be likened to a day in the park. Tables, benches, palm trees, old-fashioned street lamps and clay planters brimming with flowers all contribute to the small-town Mediterranean plaza motif, with gurgling fountains and a fish pond adding to the intimacy.

All are clever devices to lure those pocketbooks closer to the cash registers. At the same time, they give tightwads an attractive place to avoid the stores. Go ahead and leave Uncle Seymour at El Roberto quaffing beers, drop off little Sally at the playground, and steer Aunt Bertha toward the cocktail gowns in the Atrium Court. They will all have a good time.

Owned by the Irvine Co. and managed by Donahue Schriber of Costa Mesa, Fashion Island has seven major stores (Neiman-Marcus, Robinson's, Bullocks-Wilshire, The Broadway, Buffums, Amen Wardy and Irvine Ranch Farmer's Market) and an eye-popping array of boutiques. Mixed with the department stores and women's shops are eight gift and home furnishings stores, a pet store, a toy store, four jewelry stores, eight shoe stores and others not easily categorized. Of the 120 shops, 30 are devoted to women's fashions, and 10 sell men's clothing.

Fashion Island, in the oceanfront hub of Newport Center, captures the essence of Newport Beach--posh, trendy, but not too trendy, and aggressively upscale. Since its opening in 1967, the center has sought upper-income shoppers. Most of the stores still cater to the upper crust.

But that is about to change, says Kathleen Flood, marketing director. The third and last building phase will begin in January and will consist of stores and services geared more toward middle incomes and younger shoppers.

"The trends have changed and so have the life styles," Flood says. "We have more younger families than we used to."

Pending city approval, the Irvine Co. hopes to build a movie theater, 100 new stores and five new restaurants. Also planned in this area, which is repeatedly called "hot and sassy" in publicity material, is a two-level fast-food area that will overlook a proposed performing arts center.

It sounds as if Fashion Island is feeling the competitive heat of South Coast Plaza's recent additions and the opening of the splashy new megamall, MainPlace/Santa Ana. Regardless, Orange County is clearly involved in a high-stakes "store wars," and all the major malls want a piece of the action.

Fashion Island's recently completed $115-million renovation began with the building of Atrium Court and ended with the refurbished wing stretching from Neiman-Marcus to the court. The latest improvements, by the Jerde Partnership, a Los Angeles architectural firm, have done nothing to diminish the mall's strong hand. As the only major outdoor shopping center in the county, Fashion Island still emphasizes its oceanfront, parklike setting.

Unfortunately, the renovation failed to fill several gaps in the mall's landscape. Still missing are a record or video shop, a variety of shoe stores (there is just one children's shoe store, and it doesn't put price tags on its shoes), a selection of full-service family restaurants and a pharmacy.

And whatever happened to dime stores? Even rich people need nail polish remover and tape.

Also missing are moderately priced stores for teen-agers. The Limited and Benetton seem to have the under-30 market cornered, although Flood says more stores for teens are planned in the next phase. The center could also use a more original card shop. There's just a Hallmark peddling greetings and, unfortunately, the only other card store planned is . . . another Hallmark.

The three-level Atrium Court, which opened in 1985, has done a lot to attract a broader base of shoppers. A noisy but elegant arcade of escalators, stores and eateries, the court is a good place to pick up sushi and a papaya smoothie after a hard day in the shops.

The Irvine Ranch Farmer's Market takes up the first floor, along with food shops and booths that sublet from the market. The area fills up fast around lunchtime, when visitors try to outmaneuver one another for the few available tables.

Fashion Island isn't all tony shops and pricey baubles. It has some handy services, including a 30-minute photo developer, a full-service salon that offers massages and manicures and a barbershop.

But what this shopping center is really all about is whiling away a sunny afternoon in sumptuous surroundings. There's a lot to be said for window shopping, and it's nice to know that when you do need an $1,800 rhinestone miniskirt, Fashion Island has them.


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