Several years ago, a fashion change began to come over Seattle. As the Internet began to boom, start-ups in the Northwest brought with them an influx of moneyand already-retired twentysomething CEOs biting at the leash to spend it. With Web-based giants setting up shop here, the city was evolving at high speed, starting to shed its reputation as home to flannel-wearing grunge enthusiasts. And the new image that these upper-class citizens began to cultivate? One of a polished individual who pays attention to getting dressedand we're not just talking North Face windbreakers here.
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The merchants began to cater to this affluent resident's needs, and a change occurred downtown: Where there was once only Nordstrom (in its old building), there is now Adidas, Urban Outfitters, Anthropology, and Coldwater Creek (not exactly an example of hip retail, but new). Nordstrom renovated Frederick & Nelson's building and turned it into a flagship store. Pacific Place soared across the street, filled to the brim with such high-end retailers as Tiffany & Co., Max Mara, Cartier, BCBG Max Azria, and Nicole Miller; Kenneth Cole, Louis Vuitton, Barney's, Escada, and Betsey Johnson reside just a few blocks away. There are those who might call Seattle a provincial backwater compared with New York, the city in which every eye is trained toward your Balenciaga carryall. Certainly, compared with other cities, Seattle has a relatively small high-end shopping district. But even if all Manhattan is lusting after accessories two seasons ahead, Seattle still has fashion on its mind.
The words Teva and polar fleece come up when you think of fashion here. Take a stroll downtown, though, and observe Prada, Donna Karan, and Gucci all present on the streetsperhaps not worn head to toe, but in attendance, nonetheless. Sure, if you've got 20 bucks in your pocket and are looking to spend it, there's no better place than Value Village, and maybe at this point in the economy that's the way to go. But if some well-heeled individual were to wander our fair city with Visa Platinum looking for a silk-crepe evening gown or a Versace sandal, these stores might be the favored haunts:
Barney's New York
1420 Fifth Ave., 206-622-6300
Definitely not a newcomer to the Seattle retail fashion scene, Barney's Northwest outpost has been established on Fifth Avenue for 10 years. The legendary chain offers adequate amounts of New York- black pieces: classic, minimalist, and wearable. Prada sits alongside Dries Van Noten and Jil Sander. Cross over to the other side of the store and find pieces from less widely recognized names. The cult of Seven jeans is upheld and displayed here proudly, next to Marc Jacobs blouses and Cacharel chiffon dresses.
Betsey Johnson Clothing
1429 Fifth Ave., 206-624-2887
Flower prints, lots of color, swirling skirts, and girly detailing have made this store a prom-dress destination for years. Try on the Capri pants and embroidered cardigan with '40s-style open-toe pumps, or coo over the beaded flapper gown. The best part, though, is leaving with the big, neon-pink signature bag.
421 University St., 206-624-4000
A store residing in the bottom of the Olympic Four Seasons Hotel needs to maintain a good reputation. With couture from hard-to-find Jean Paul Gaultier, Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors, that reputation is easily upheld. There are show-stopping gowns, as well as embroidered purses (with a certain Judith Leiber-ish feel), delicate sandals, and velveteen jackets all worthy enough for Oscar night.
416 University St., 206-749-0711
Don't come here looking for those rainbow-hued satin dresses Marc Jacobs dished up for springaccessories and luggage are the only things a Francophile will be able to find here. But if you require classic logo suitcases or that perfect silver purse pen, your needs will easily be met. Searching for that Murakami number with Minnie Mouse bows? If it's not in the store, they'll at least be able to put you on the waiting listexpect it in 18 months.
500 Pine St., 206-628-2111
Couture occupies only a small space on the second floor of Seattle's highly regarded department store, but the selection is plenty eye-catching. There's a wide range of recognizable pieces seen on the runway, such as "J'Adore Dior" tees and woven striped Missoni bikinis. Yves Saint Laurent occupies its own black-carpeted altar in back, and a separate Chanel boutique is close by, so you'll be able to get your wool-cardigan-and-camellia-pin fix easily.