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A Brief History of MePa Retail from McQueen to Lululemon

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Oh, the Meatpacking District. Bemoaned by some as an overgrown nightlife-turned-tourist haven; beloved by others as a cultural hub of New York City. The arrival of Jeffrey in 1999 was a major catalyst for change in the neighborhood, and the resultant decade and a half has seen exponential growth.

On the shopping front, we've watched the area go from wasteland to edgy luxury row to concept shops, and lately, toward a boom in mainstream stores, with recent openings by Patagonia, Lululemon, and Hanro. As many of the early adoptors of the area—Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Yigal Azrouel—leave the neighborhood, we wonder: does the district still have the luxury cache the mainstreamers are looking to cash in on?

We've outlined a few major moments in the MePa's history (from Jeffrey in '99 to UGG in 2012) to try to gain insight into what was and what will be the ever-debated district. After the jump, take a trip down memory lane West 14th Street for a look at the openings and closings that have shaped the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District.

1999: Jeffrey Opens
Ex-Barney's shoe buyer Jeffrey Kalinsky opens his namesake shop, Jeffrey, marking the beginning of fashion retail in the neighborhood. Retail rents are in the mid-$20 per-square-foot range (today they're more like $300), and the district is still mostly populated with meat processing plants.

Mazdack Rassi, founder and creative director of Milk Studios, recalls the opening: "I was waiting there at nine in the morning and Jeffrey came with Michael, all his bankers, his lawyers, his real estate people. And you could just see everyone's face was like, 'This is disgusting. Get us out of this neighborhood.' I mean, we were opening high-end retail, everything was like $800 in the store. And all of a sudden [Jeffrey] looks around and he looks at me and he says, 'This is it.'"

August 13, 2000: Sex and the City
Ever on the cutting edge (back then), Sex and the City's Samantha moves to the neighborhood. The influential show brings the new, edgy neighborhood to public consciousness outside of NYC.

Charlotte: And who knew all this existed in the Meatpacking District?
Miranda: Yes, just yards away from dumpsters full of decaying cow.
Her new 'hood is chock full of transvestite prostitutes, which poses problems. Michelle Dell, the Hogs & Heifers proprietor, recalls: "I'll never forget when the neighborhood started to transition. You know, the women rolling around in their Jimmy Choos and their Guccis, slipping and sliding in these streets that were covered in this thin film of meat sludge"

2002: McQueen, Stella, and More Arrive
Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Scoop NYC, and Rubin & Chapelle all open on W 14th Street. This is McQueen's first US store and Stella's first store anywhere. Beyond Jeffrey, the Times notes that neighbors include, "the housewares shop Bodum and several art galleries." The article also explains that opening a store in the area made a statement, moreso than Soho or Nolita, and that the shops would benefit from the destination that is Jeffrey.

Alexander McQueen said that he chose the neighborhood because it "projects an exciting energy that is unique for New York and totally right for McQueen." Rents are $40-$60 per square foot.

2003: Yigal Azrouël and Soho House Open
The emerging Israeli designer and the membership-only-if-you're-approved British club up the sex appeal of the neighborhood.

Left, the stairs being airlifted into DVF's complex, via Curbed; Right, the completed castle, via ArchDaily

2004: DVF Arrives
Diane von Furstenberg, everyone's fashion fairy godmother, buys the giant structure that eventually becomes her home/studio/office/flagship. It takes three years, but she opens shop in May 2007. We don't expect this to go anywhere anytime soon.

2005: Puma Follows
Puma opens its concept store, which becomes a popular way for more mainstream brands to enter the neighborhood.

Image via Gothamist

December 2007: The Apple Store
The Apple Store opens its tallest structure yet on West 14th Street. Drawing an element of service—The Genius Bar—and tech to the fashion-y, nightlife-y neighborhood, this also provides a reason for people who aren't dining at Pastis or shopping at Jeffrey to enter the neighborhood. The high-end electronics are glossy and luxurious, sure, but the retail environment invites play and exploration without any sniff of exclusivity.

December 2008: The Standard Hotel
When The Standard hotel opens, it changes the face of the Meatpacking District—not only by being strikingly tall for the area, but for inviting coolism, a word we just invented to mean cool tourism. Dining, drinking, and the Boom Boom Room—fashion's favorite after party for a couple of years—are all part of the hotel's complex.

June 2009: Introducing the High Line
The first leg of the Highline opens, and becomes a Central Park of sorts to the Meatpacking District. Now, people have a reason to be out in the area during the daytime beyond shopping or lunching.

The Levi's Premium store, via The Shophound

2010—2012: The Big-Name Chains Arrive, the Early Adopters Exit
Megabrands like Levi's, Sephora, All Saints, and Intermix join the party, as some of the original boutiques of the area plot their exits to Soho and the Upper East Side.

In 2011, Stella McCartney leaves for Soho's Greene Street, citing that the lease was up and it was time to enter a more "grown-up" neighborhood. Contemporary brand Alice and Olivia—heavy on party dresses, sort of perfect for the nightlife scene that has become of the district—enters the designer's old address.

Rubin & Chapelle close their Meatpacking store in April 2012, telling WWD that they will reopen on Mercer Street in Soho. "It was very exciting to see the momentum and the changes. But we feel like since mass-product brands moved in, that's really changed the coloration of the clients," said designer Sonja Rubin.

Next, Yigal Azrouel leaves the neighborhood in August 2012 for a Madison Avenue outpost. The designer's CEO told WWD, "For the first five years, there was a more high-end nature of shoppers. Having the Apple store there has brought in another wave of shoppers." His West 14th Street address was quickly scooped up by Lululemon.

Now, Alexander McQueen is also on the way out, with a Madison Avenue location in the works.

2012: The New Wave
Perhaps luxury isn't totally out: exciting new multi-brand boutique Owen opens its doors, Christian Louboutin brings a mens store to the area, and Nicholas Kirkwood opens his first NYC shoe emporium. While the price points at all three shops are high, they're still different than the original luxury tenants. Owen fits in with contemporary-level neighbors like Intermix, Alice and Olivia, and Diane von Furstenberg. Sharing the price point is Scoop, who arrived early to the neighborhood and now operates 14,000 square feet over a bevy of storefronts. And while shoes by Louboutin and Kirkwood are certainly up there, charging a pair of I-can't-believe-I-just-bought-those pumps is still a lot more affordable than being a full-fledged McQueen client.
· All Meatpacking District coverage [Racked NY]
· Mass market for Meatpacking [The Real Deal]
· Two British Designers to Open Shops in Meatpacking District [NY Times]

Jeffrey New York

449 W 14th Street, New York, NY 10014 212-206-1272 Visit Website

Stella McCartney

112 Greene Street, Soho, NY 10012 (212) 255-1556

Christian Louboutin

965 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021 212-396-1884 Visit Website

Nicholas Kirkwood

807 Washington Street, New York , NY 10014 (646) 559-5239 Visit Website