The Nordstrom that I shopped in (or at least window-shopped in) on a more-than-weekly basis during my high school years is unrecognizable these days. Not only is the downtown Seattle flagship completely under construction (though it's still open!), but the product offering is also much cooler. It's now a home for Topshop; Madewell; Pop-In, currently featuring a mini-Warby Parker shop; and as of Thursday, there's Space, which I happily toured during my vacation back home to get a sneak peek the day before it opened to the public.
Like Pop-In, Space is the brainchild of Olivia Kim, Nordstrom's director of creative projects (a title invented for her) who previously made a name for herself in New York at Opening Ceremony, which is where you might expect to find the designers currently occupying Space. It's a separate mini-boutique that lives next to Nordstrom's high-end designer department in four flagship stores, as well as online. Curated, merchandised and decorated by Kim — she partnered with artists and furniture makers to outfit each one individually — rare brands like Simone Rocha, Isa Arfen, Tricot Comme des Garçons, Marques’Almeida and Vetements hang on the racks.
"We had all the big designers [at Nordstrom] — the Givenchys and the Celines — and we have this robust advanced contemporary world. I felt we were missing this place for emerging and advanced brands that were getting industry buzz but were typically more 'boutique' brands," explained Kim. "Because [boutiques] can nurture them, they can really help their customer understand the premise behind the brand, so it kind of triggered this thought process like, could we do a boutique that felt really small in our big stores?"
It wasn't easy — many of the aforementioned brands are rarely stocked outside of boutiques and concept shops like Dover Street Market for a reason, whether it's an inability to produce enough units to deliver to a national chain or other logistical issues that a commercially minded department store might not want to deal with. Luckily, Nordstrom has Kim. "[Some labels] were intimidated by supplier setup, or whether they are EDI compliant, or how they get their goods across customs... we said, 'We can work with you and help you grow your business in a way that feels comfortable for you.'"
Kim doesn't deny that her personal taste has influenced the buy for Space, but she also feels it will appeal to Nordstrom shoppers who were buying these brands, but previously had a harder time finding them. This raises the question: Does some of the appeal of a Simone Rocha skirt or a Tricot Comme des Garçons sweater lie in their scarcity? Perhaps. Even Kim, a longtime Rocha devotee, said she felt a little less excited about buying the new season now that it's so easy to obtain.
Fortunately, Space's Olivia Kim-ification — from the crazy furniture to the flamboyant mannequins to the specially trained sales associates called "Space Ambassadors" (she wanted to call them astronauts, but that didn't fly with HR) — creates the special shopping experience you want when buying such brands. It's the reason why I think Space makes Nordstrom cooler, rather than diluting the coolness of the brands carried. With this and Pop-In, Kim says she hopes "people start to think of the department store mentality a little bit differently."