Just when you have pretty much given up on having a magical retail experience, you discover Industry City in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. On the other hand, you can’t help but discover the possibility of Hudson Yards unless you are sleepwalking. One is Emerald City, the other is Kansas. And trust me, the honest and authentic retail renovation trumps the illusion of the multifaceted glass-paned city rising above the Hudson River. We know that the Yards is a huge gamble for Related and Oxford as well as their tenants. New Yorkers are fickle and have short attention spans. It’s only new and interesting for a heartbeat. The hordes of tourists who flock to our retail icons and monuments, however, may sustain the Yards long after its natural lifespan. So far, it’s a magnet for the curious and the stalwart who choose to climb the 154-stairway Vessel to get a view. It is clearly a self-selective attraction as anyone with knee problems or stair issues will have to settle for the courtyard at the base of the Escher-esque stairway to nowhere. It seems to be targeted to nine-year-olds who scramble up and down like the modern-day Maya on their ancient pyramids.
We’ve been sold on the community-building potential of the Yards. Now that the Shed is open, our cultural conversations will be driven by art, theater and music. We can attend these ticketed, life-enhancing events dressed in designer labels, upscale jewels and beautified by Sephora or MAC, all conveniently co-located in this notice-me-now shopping scene. But here’s the thing, everything at the Yards is predictable. We know what Origins offers. We know what Neiman’s sells. We know what Athleta, Banana, Brooks Brothers, Kate Spade, Madewell, Cartier and the designer labels sell. We even know what cuisine the celebrity chefs are going to offer. The discovery or adventure is trying to figure out exactly where they are located in Emerald City. It is breathtakingly and blindingly beautiful from CAD-enabled architecture. And cold and impersonal. It reminds us of a multi-level just-built airport in Singapore or Taiwan. It is designed as a destination for a select high-income group’s personal version of Oz at the end of the High Line or at the top of the vertical shaft way leading from the subway. In the end, it’s just a mall, the attractive Neiman Marcus notwithstanding.
Kansas, on the other hand is a true adventure. And until June, home to the real M.C. Escher and his 200+ works in a comprehensive art exhibition that makes the Vessel look like the architectural folly it is. Housed in 16 historic interconnected buildings in an industrial complex overlooking Brooklyn waterfront, Industry City is a breath of fresh air. It is also designed as a destination, human centered, full of energy and an adventure of discovery that is repeatable without becoming boring.
The food hall looks like a pre-war warren of pop-ups offering an international menu of affordable eats, all with an accidentally or intentionally distressed design that looks and feels real. The big retail spaces lean towards the home furnishing genre, with Design Within Reach, ABC Carpet and Home and RH Outlet setting the aesthetic tone.
But what makes IC work is its unpredictability. What is Li-Lac Chocolates making on their conveyor belt/cum theatrical stage in full view of the crowds? Or what is Colson Patisserie baking on any given day? Japan Village is a smaller version of its big sister Mitsuwa Marketplace in New Jersey, and offers sushi, ramen, sake bar, rice bowls and a seduction of Japanese delicacies. The fully stocked grocery store sells fresh foods and exotic staples, mercifully double-labeled in English. And it’s always a surprise to see what class the Brooklyn Kitchen is offering on a given weekend.
And then there’s the unexpected gift of meeting the ethereal Teressa Foglia who is a modern hat designer. She was trained in southern France and makes her unique hats by hand, no two alike, customized, distressed and beribboned with materials that are repurposed. Her aesthetic is both contemporary and true authentic, handcrafted artisanry. Her business is sustainable, recycling scraps and using repurposed decorative materials. She sells her creations to Bergdorf, et al. If you’d rather stay uptown, you will pay $700+ for a hat that is an original piece of art. Or, come to IC, meet this charming young artisan and purchase her hats at a more reasonable wholesale price point.
For more surprises, visit Arcade by A Current Affair with vintage clothing of designer labels and unique one-of-a-kind pieces, thoughtfully racked by color spectrum. Wonderful discoveries and treasures are always different on each visit.
The thing about IC is that it is a community, not trying to be one. There are creative spaces, maker spaces, artist studios, worker spaces and art installations that give IC an edge and its humanity. Families with children, high cool-factor artists, young couples condo shopping, the curious and the friendly, all with a stylish Brooklyn urban vibe seem to be having a great time exploring the spaces and relaxing in the courtyards between the buildings.
It’s a tale of two cities, and if the future of retail is authenticity, community, creativity, inspiration and surprise, IC delivers that plus more. It makes you curious and want to buy to support all the clever and creative shopkeepers who have curated an experience that is what customers want and appreciate.