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Chanel Is Open for High-End Business

September 18, 2000|ROBIN ABCARIAN and NANCY YOSHIHARA

So maybe it wasn't as widely anticipated as last year's opening of Costco in Culver City, but for a certain kind of consumer--one, say, who doesn't buy her paper towels in bulk--the party for the remodeled Chanel boutique on Rodeo Drive was a thrill.

Store execs ushered a passel of Young Hollywood guests and mid-wattage celebrities (including Rod Stewart, Sharon Lawrence and the frighteningly ubiquitous Tori Spelling) through a tented, red-carpeted entrance off the alley behind the sleek, four-story store Thursday night.

A clutch of hip-looking young men--agents, who else?--lounged against a display case, visually trolling the crowd. No phone numbers exchanged with hot-looking chicks yet, reported Jason Gutman, an extremely young-looking 26-year-old agent with Writers & Artists Agency in Beverly Hills. "Usually people tell me I look 12," he said. "For some reason, that's the number they all come up with." When told he didn't look a day under 16, he smiled and said, "Yeah, that's the other number they come up with."

In Chanel's case, all those young faces could only mean one thing: an attempt to transform the legendary design house's somewhat fusty image.

Handsome waiters, one of whom registered his displeasure with the constant omission of the caterer's name from newspaper party coverage, offered champagne and teensy lobster quesadillas in Accessories. Over in Fine Jewelry, the caterer (did we mention the name? La Cuisine?) had set up a martini bar. Store director Catherine Kiek (in a patchwork jacket of pastel suede from the current Chanel collection) looked surprisingly calm, considering the potential for spillage on the new cream carpet: "Well," she said cheerfully, "at least there's no red wine!"

The room's attention was momentarily diverted by the arrival of "The Practice" star Dylan McDermott, in black leather pants and white untucked shirt, with his wife, actress Shiva Rose, in a pale green ruffled Chanel gown. (Rose was one of the evening's co-hosts, along with Christina Ricci, Selma Blair, Jenny Bicks, Tracy Brennan, and the "Austin Powers"-producing sisters Todd--Jennifer and Suzanne.) McDermott's the kind of guy who can even make a heterosexual man take notice: "Wow!" said one male party-goer to his wife. "He really is a hunk."

On the second floor, Chanel CEO and President Arie L. Kopelman perched on a couch upholstered with Chanel haute couture fabric (you think your washed chenille sofa cost you a fortune?). It's the intense competition in the luxury goods market, he said, that prompted Chanel to remodel.

"Gucci woke up. Vuitton woke up. Prada woke up. They got aggressive and started to do a lot. Competition keeps us on our toes."

The store's spare contemporary interior, designed by architect Peter Marino, puts the focus on the merchandise--the purses, shoes, jewelry, sunglasses and garments. "In the old environment," said Kopelman, "it was beautiful space and the first reaction was, 'Oh, how beautiful' the store is. Now you look at the product first and then the space.' "

"This is a candy store for big kids. People should come in and say, 'I've got to have that.' "

"I was never able to afford Chanel!" said "West Wing" star Allison Janney, who had won a supporting actress Emmy four nights earlier (and plenty of attention for her gold-sequined, back-baring dress). "I was after a Marilyn Monroe thing," she said. And, she added, when she asked her mother what she thought of the Pamela Dennis dress, her mother dryly replied: "Well, it did what you wanted it to do."

On this night, she towered above the crowd in a girlish, tiered black lace Chanel cocktail dress with spaghetti straps.

There wasn't much merchandise on display yet,--just handbags and shoes, mostly. But security guards swarmed the joint nonetheless. "You making sure no one slips a shoe into their pocket?" we inquired of one. "Not that you'd have to worry about that in such a high-class crowd."

"Honey," he said with the air of a man who knew what he was talking about, "it's the high-class crowd you gotta worry about."

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