Behind candy-striped glass doors at the Ace, there is a 1,500-square-foot gift shop where the cheapest item is a bag of Monster Munch crisps, imported from England, for $1, and the most expensive is a Rodarte cocktail dress, with fading blocks of color and jeweled shoulder detail, for $13,000.
The store is the new outpost of Opening Ceremony, the downtown retailer that carefully curates pieces from progressive designers and has been a destination for the city’s fashion flock since 2002. “The Ace embraces this sort of American Heritage aesthetic, and Opening Ceremony sort of does the same,” said Vogue’s senior market editor, Meredith Melling Burke, a frequent shopper at the store. “They sell brands that have maybe otherwise fallen off the fashion radar, like a Pendleton, and breathe new life into it. As a traveler, I like a hotel that has a homey, earthy feel rather than a super-sleek, super-minimal, antiseptic aesthetic. The Ace has an old-fashioned photo booth, but it’s also so hi-fi or hi-wi or whatever. It’s nostalgic but updated, and that’s what Opening Ceremony does.”
A 25-year-old store manager named Jimmy, dressed in denim cut-offs, a cream-colored button-up open at the chest and brown patent-leather Topsiders, showed The Observer around. The space has tall ceilings, with back stock stored behind whimsically placed full-size doors that can only be accessed with a tall ladder. Among the clothing racks, The Observer was drawn to a silky Opening Ceremony brown blouse with blue animal print ($370), stacked heel Doc Martens ($200) and a Pendleton for Opening Ceremony white miniskirt dotted with silver blazer buttons ($280, reduced to $196), but hesitated at a leather overalls skirt by Alexander Wang for $725.
In addition to the fashion, there was a $9 tube of Elgytium French toothpaste (“celebrities really like it,” Jimmy said); Kiehls travel kits ($7 to $25); Haribo gummies in all possible flavors ($1.75); the complete Criterion DVD collection ($19.99 each); copies of The Believer magazine; pajamas designed by Band of Outsiders ($320); a feather plume pen by Martin Margiella ($50); Proenza Schouler P.S.1 bags ($1,500 to $2,000); and a $200 Philip Lim travel blanket. “It’s pretty much like a designer Snuggie,” remarked our guide.
Opening Ceremony is co-owned by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim. “Carol and I travel so much, and we always go into the hotel gift shops and we always say, ‘This shop sucks! Why isn’t it better? Why don’t they sell better things?’” Mr. Leon said by phone the other day.
In theory, the new location could transform the retail landscape of lower midtown, now best known for the aging grande dame Lord & Taylor and a lot of flammable-sari shops. “It’s worth making lunch plans in the neighborhood, knowing that your real mission is to get to the store,” emailed Linda Fargo, fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, which carries Opening Ceremony’s signature line. “I myself couldn’t resist either the taffeta leopard skinny crop pant-best interpretation ever!-nor the tailored yet femmy flounce sleeve black shirt/blouse or the one off, all over fringed Adidas pullover windbreaker designed for men. Though where I’m going in it has yet to be figured out.”
A young woman with frizzy brown hair, whom The Observer remembered from the L train that same morning, entered in a black miniskirt, a beige top and brown oxfords. She checked out a netted beige sweater by Opening Ceremony ($195) and a black layered jacket by Alexander Wang ($705, reduced to $494), and said she worked at a photo-retouching studio around the corner.
“The neighborhood is still up and coming,” said Jimmy. “The clientele is different than the other store. It skews a little older. We get more casual shoppers.” Educating the average tourist and the East 29th Street shopper is an ongoing process; the best-selling items in the store have been the DVDs.
The girl left, and a couple entered through the doorway that leads to the hotel lobby. They were wearing backpacks, jeans, loose T-shirts with airline logos and sneakers. They browsed around for a few minutes-spiky bracelets, distressed T-shirts, structured blazers-and left without buying anything.