Within one week of its grand opening, the Avalon development in Alpharetta was already packed with shoppers. I could hardly find a parking space. The place rings of Atlantic Station (which makes sense since they’re both developed by North American Properties), right down to the Bose speakers pulsing easy listening from garden planters. It’s new, it’s sparkly, the asphalt is practically still sticky. Customized storefronts diversify the landscape somewhat: Calypso St. Barth has a pink awning and a faux mansard roof; Lululemon a penny-tile mosaic; Orvis a weathered-wood look with barn doors framing the windows.
The retailers at Avalon may not get urbanites to make the drive, but the list includes some universal pleasers (J.Crew, Anthropologie) and more than a dozen chains that are new to OTP. Meaning, if you live north of Atlanta—as statistically, much of our population and our readership does—until now you’ve had to drive into town for brands like C. Wonder, Calypso St. Barth, Athleta, Orvis. It’s also worth noting that three retailers are entirely new to Georgia. There’s Soft Surroundings, a St. Louis-based shop with comfy mom clothes and furnishings (but guess who lives in the suburbs? Lots of moms!), and Cosmetic Market, with a respectable collection of makeup and beauty goods, including Nars, Trish McEvoy, and Bobbi Brown. And there’s our favorite, Lou & Grey, a Loft spinoff that is all neutrals and linens and comfy but hip silhouettes. It carries a lot of great jewelry from small, local makers around the country, with plans to incorporate Atlanta makers as well (right now find local art—not for sale—on the walls).
Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio is also new on the scene, at the Lenox Marketplace (the shopping center with Dick’s Sporting Goods, across from Phipps). It’s not to be confused with Neiman Marcus Last Call outlets, which carry merchandise overflow from the main line stores at a discount price. The Studio has on-season goods directly from contemporary designers (Vince, DVF, Rebecca Taylor) that never got picked up by the big stores. It’s been questioned recently whether that means these items are of inferior quality, or made specifically for these stores with cheaper materials. I did a lot of tag reading, and I found 100 percent cashmere, 100 percent silk, 100 percent wool, and real furs. All of the tags have a “compare to” price, which is what store associates told me would have been the price had these pieces gone to the department store—but since they didn’t, take that with a grain of salt. When I was there, nearly everything in the store was 40 percent off, and there are sales almost every week. Things will be 40 percent off through the weekend, and then next week will go down to 30 percent off.
The items at the Studio store may not be the edgiest, the most covetable (you’ll still have to pay full-price at Neiman’s for that), there’s a much smaller selection, and it doesn’t carry premier designers. But for wardrobe padding and basics, there are some real finds at good prices. A lot of it doesn’t look or feel different from what you could find on the main floor: Alice + Olivia separates, Equipment silk tops (I found one top in a parrot pattern that I know I had seen in department stores—with the MSRP marked as $268, the Studio price at $139, plus 40 percent off), and J. Brand jeans (MSRP $220, Studio price $99, 40 percent off). Also find jewelry (Ippolita) and bags (Foley + Corinna, Badgley Mischka).
Men, too: A Giorgio Armani 100 percent wool suit, made in Italy, was 40 percent off $1795. A navy windowpane Hickey Freeman suit, 100 percent worsted wool, was 40 percent off $699. For $66, those 100 percent silk Valentino ties didn’t look so inferior to me.
Also open this week is Bella Bag at Buckhead Atlanta. Last night it celebrated with a grand opening party, although it won’t open to the public until Monday. Bella Bag, the brainchild of local Cassandra Connors, buys and sells luxury handbags online at major discounts to clients around the world. Until now, Atlanta buyers could visit a showroom on Miami Circle. This new location is a major upgrade: a swanky Peachtree Street storefront at Buckhead Atlanta alongside international luxury brands. In fact, Bella Bag is the only local business announced thus far at the ritzy development. On display last night was an ostrich Hermès Birkin bag ($40,000, and yes, that’s a discount)—and a croc one ($25,000)—and a Chanel backpack ($12,500), limited-edition, from the spring 2013 runway, floating in a sea of Céline and Chanel. Aspirational buyers, don’t be (too) intimidated: There are (some) bags, like a number of small Louis Vuitton Speedys, that go for prices in the (high) three digits.