According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers spent an average of $289 over Thanksgiving weekend, down about three percentage points from last year. The group noted further that 44 percent of those shoppers did their buying online. Accordingly, Black Friday 2016 featured less brick-and-mortar mayhem and foot-to-skull contact than usual.
The undignified institution of racing to stores and frantically competing for a limited amount of goods might be dying, but it’s not dead yet. And with a downturn in global luxury (and the strength of the U.S. dollar muting the presence of foreign tourists in New York's SoHo and on Fifth Avenue), we were curious to see how New York’s high-end stores were faring on the shopping holiday. After all, $289 might buy you a keychain at Gucci, right?
Tiffany in Trump Territory
No survey of Manhattan high-end retail is complete without breakfast, or at least brunch, at Tiffany & Company at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. The presence of a Twitter-happy president-elect in a gilded penthouse above the Tiffany flagship presented certain complications, of course. At the checkpoint on the corner opposite Trump Tower, a woman wondered about the automatic weapons, the bag check, the restricted access to the east side of Fifth. “Is it always like that?” she asked in a British accent.
Tiffany has made a valiant effort at beautifying its share of metal crowd-control barriers by fitting them with vinyl jackets colored in its signature blue. Consumers who navigated these entered the store to discover Yuletide business as usual, with Tiffany combining its functions as a sight to see and a place to buy. The second and fourth floors, respectively featuring engagement rings and housewares, quietly hummed along as engraving options were deliberated gravely. Meanwhile, the bustling third floor presented a scene of the class divide as expressed by disposable drinkware: While the actual shoppers sipped water from Tiffany-blue paper cups while browsing for tennis-bracelet charms, the window shoppers clutched Starbucks lattes while eyeing Elsa Peretti bangles.
Down the block at Gucci, things were more sedate. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that upscale Black Friday is all about accessories, and here people shopped for shoes or dozed off after drinking two Proseccos while their spouses shopped for shoes. The security staff gawped at the crowd forced to a standstill on the west side of the avenue because the east side was blocked off to pedestrian foot traffic: “It’s crazy.” “So crazy!” At 1 p.m., no television-news crews hogged the sidewalk and only one lone anti-Trump protestor was in evidence; “BLACK FRIDAY – BLEAK FOUR YEARS,” read his sign. But still, the crush of people. This was just what happens when you take a bunch of tourists who already don’t know how to walk and give them less space to not know how to walk in. That there was no evident Black Friday sale at Gucci was no concern to the twentysomething dudes copping low-top sneakers.
Nearby, at Bergdorf Goodman ladies’ store, chaos reigned. The staff was sufficiently overwhelmed that an apple core at the side of an escalator railing went unattended long enough to brown. The shoe department was standing room only—which was also the case at Barneys, where the floor was veritably carpeted in Adidas Stan Smiths and Superstars kicked aside as ladies tried on shoes marked SALE SALE SALE SALE. The word SALE high-fived each of your eyeballs wherever you turned your head, which was Barneys’s way of getting into the holiday spirit. It takes a certain kind of confidence to play up one's Black Friday-ness at this end of the spectrum, where a discounted pair of leather jeans from Balmain still costs $2,339.
Meanwhile, at 4 p.m., the Louis Vuitton on 57th Street hosted a level of commotion generally more associated with Penn Station. Belts and bags and baubles flew off the shelves. Russians and Japanese and New Jerseyans queued at the registers, all of them feeling the holiday spirit, or whatever it is that inspires the purchase of a python-skin handbag.
Shhh … Don’t Say Sale.Sign Up
Consider the contrast between the Polo Ralph Lauren store at 55th Street and Fifth Avenue and the Ralph Lauren Men’s Flagship up at 72nd Street and Madison. In Midtown, Ralph couldn’t quite bring himself to condone the phrase “Black Friday,” so instead the store labeled its 30-percent-off deal a “Thanksgiving Weekend Sale.” Still, to judge by the mood, it was as if reindeer had replaced polo ponies; there was much jazzy Christmas music on the speakers and an outlet-store-type mania in the air. Uptown, however, in truly posh fashion, there was no indication of a sale or of the season, unless you count a Willie Nelson cover of Please Come Home for Christmas piped into the RRL corner. Everything sat on shelves proudly at full price, including a $595 tic-tac-toe set made of walnut, nickel, and “carbon-fiber leather.”
Oh, no, uptown it was gauche to talk about sales. At the Prada on 70th and Madison, lots of excellent merchandise was marked down 50 percent—but it practically required specialized optical equipment to notice the marking, so discreet was the signage. I noticed some eagerly frenetic activity at Tory Burch and Kate Spade, both of which, like many of their neighbors, had painted low-key “sale” signs on their glass doors, less subtle than Prada but still in keeping with good taste. But in general, a hush had fallen over the Upper East Side, as if this were, like an August Friday, an unfashionable time to be seen in town.
This rule against making a big thing of sales also applies in the artier, more conspicuously conceptualist corners of the city. Situated in the unlikely neighborhood of Kips Bay, Dover Street Market is the seven-story temple to cutting-edge fashion where any given person could be a shopper or a sales assistant or a participant in a Franco-Japanese installation-art piece. The store sent out an e-mail advertising its “FW16 Sale” that didn’t mention the holiday at all. Raf Simons sneaker collabs are too hip for turkey, it turns out, even if they are 30 percent off. Here and throughout the luxury world, even with business simmering decently, Black Friday was a dish best served cool.