Every few minutes earlier this week, Melrose Avenue shoppers stopped in their tracks to peer through massive glass doors of a new boutique. They gestured eagerly to the workmen inside and asked, "Are you open yet?"
When the new Miu Miu boutique opens its doors Saturday, Italian designer Miuccia Prada will help lead a revival of Melrose Avenue's high-fashion western end. The move is likely to resonate well beyond the famous shopping street and attract interest in international fashion circles--because where Prada goes, the rest of fashion follows.
"Miu Miu is probably the hottest name in retailing," says David Assil, a former Melrose Avenue retailer who sees promise in the area now. "I think once Miu Miu purchased that building, other people thought it would be a good area." Miu Miu is the most playful offshoot of all the Prada lines and is a target for continued worldwide expansion.
Already, three other designer stores are planning to open within a few months. Just a few doors down from Miu Miu, employees are putting the finishing touches on the new Liza Bruce boutique, the London-based designer's first in the United States. Across the street, New York designer Betsey Johnson has papered the windows of another store to announce her impending return to Melrose retailing. Diagonally across Laurel Avenue, Melrose stalwart Fred Segal continues as the street's original high-fashion destination.
"Los Angeles is perfect for Miu Miu," said Prada, speaking by telephone from Milan, Italy. "There are young, hip, more eccentric people there. The film industry seems more and more interested in fashion because fashion and cinema are very connected." She explained that because Los Angeles is an entertainment center, its sense of style is spread internationally through the media.
The arrival of the Miu Miu boutique is yet another example of Los Angeles' rising international fashion profile. In recent months, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole and Gucci's flagship store have opened in Los Angeles. Gucci designer Tom Ford has lately called Los Angeles the next hot city to watch.
The Melrose store is only the second Miu Miu boutique in the United States. Unlike the first store in New York's SoHo, the Melrose store is the only U.S. source for Miu Miu menswear and features the newest store design.
"This whole area is becoming more interesting," said window shopper Irene Adamczyk, an interior designer who stopped by the boutique Tuesday. In her view, this Melrose revival is different from the teen-and-tourist stores that most recently repopulated the street. "This is the adult version."
At Miu Miu, giant red hanging partitions and red-lined stainless steel cubes divide the nearly 5,000-square-foot floor space, allowing customers to view the collection in almost the exact order that it appeared in the runway shows. The store is stocked with fashion's latest must-have--body-conforming utility bags and belt packs for men and women and rubber-soled shoes.
The store's designer-priced selection extends beyond the runway looks to include every color and every style in the collection. Until now, the Miu Miu ready-to-wear was available only at Barneys New York in Beverly Hills and the accessories and shoes at select Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue stores.
New stores for Melrose are likely to bring a higher level of service and a unique selection of merchandise to the area's retail mix. For example, the Liza Bruce store will have a made-to-measure swimwear service and Miu Miu will have the most complete collection in the United States.
Los Angeles is following a pattern recently established in London, where a revived art community triggered a renewed fashion scene, says artist and Liza Bruce employee Nicholas Alvis Vegas.
Melrose has suffered through many indignities, however.
"Melrose died," says Assil, who closed his Madison Melrose shoe store in 1996. "It got glutted with a lot of the same merchandise. It became a price war. On top of that, there were the riots. And landlords raised the rent. People freaked out."
Now it looks as if Melrose may rise again, building on the status of Prada and Miu Miu. The presence of a Miu Miu store here can only build on its popularity among young actresses (though Prada wouldn't name names). The Miu Miu line is not just a lower-priced knockoff of the more sophisticated Prada line, the designer says. It is known as a source of sometimes saucy, sometimes innocent, always whimsical trends--Prada calls it a reflection of her "bad girl" nature. Whatever, the collection is likely to influence fashion--and not only on Melrose.