23-Nov, 06:59

15:19, October 31 83 0

2017-10-31 15:19:03
Matcha? Manicures? Fenty? It’s the Dawn of a New Century 21

At Next Century, the boutique-minded new shop inside Century 21, Isaac Gindi, a second-generation garmento, and his new hire, Chrissie Miller (native New Yorkers both), were putting the finishing touches on a whole new vision for a metropolitan institution.

“Everything that the millennial really likes to dress in, we have it here!” said Mr. Gindi, an owner of Century 21 Stores, the department store whose flame has burned, undimmed, to generations of discount-loving moths. “That Gucci thing with a pair of Levi’s — that’s the way they dress today. It’s mix and match. That’s what we have. Who has that? I’m asking you!”

That’s what they have, and have had for some 56 years, since Mr. Gindi’s father and uncle, Sonny and Al Gindi, founded the store in 1961. Not Gucci and Levi’s per se, though maybe on a lucky day, but a rack-bursting mix of anything and everything, provided it is offered at a deep discount.

Century 21 offers off-price designer clothes, shoes, accessories and home goods, which is to say, slightly out of season or overstock, in an atmosphere where service may range between warm and war-torn. For those willing to dig for their bargains (and defend them once in hand), it is practically a holy site.

But at Next Century, which opens on Thursday, the rougher edges of Century 21 have been sanded away, the better to lure a new generation. Mr. Gindi and Ms. Miller, the former designer of Sophomore, have buffed the space and its offerings to an Instagram-ready gleam. (The neon-rimmed mirror is particularly good for selfies, Mr. Gindi said.) New to the store are young or under-the-radar labels like Adam Selman, Olympia Le-Tan, Trademark and Maison Mayle, sourced by Ms. Miller. Upstairs, Proenza Schouler hangs not far from a rack of Fenty Puma by Rihanna.

There are décor and impulse-buy touches borrowed from the 2017 playbook: vases of leafy green fronds and jars of individually wrapped Korean face masks, the sort of thing that might confuse the bubbes and babushkas of yore, who once stripped down to their underpinnings in the big store’s old communal dressing rooms, or even before.

“They used to undress on the selling floor!” Mr. Gindi said. “I’ve broken up many fights between customers.”

At Next Century, the vibe is more supportive: a side-by-side manicure at the second-floor nail art bar? A matcha latte at the second-floor Chalait coffee and tea bar? A flip through a vintage issue of Andy Warhol’s Interview in the lounge?

Next Century and Century 21 will be connected but disparate. Next Century has its own entrance, at 21 Dey Street, but connects to the main store through a pair of mirrored doors. The prices, as befit Century 21, are far lower than in-season designer goods. Some finds are limited to a single piece, the kind pursued in dreams: an Alaïa top ($529.99, down from $1,765); a Céline blouse ($429.99, down from $1,450); or a Row sweater ($499.99, down from $1,690).

Others are carried in a full run of sizes, and some, like the Telfar collection by Telfar Clemens, were made specifically for the store. Mr. Clemens’s creative director, Babak Radboy, even created a logo for the capsule, a swooping “Telfar” over the looping Century 21, a design Mr. Radboy had been fiddling with long before Century 21 even came to call. (“I don’t know if he was playing around with this in a full moon, or what,” Mr. Clemens said.) The two have been Century 21 shoppers for years; Mr. Clemens decided to go to Pace University, he said, in part because of its proximity to the store.

Brian Procell, the New York vintage dealer and owner of Procell Vintage, has his own Century 21 stories, too — “as all New Yorkers do,” he said. Ms. Miller invited him to bring in a collection of vintage designer pieces from the 1990s and early 2000s to sell on the ground floor.

“We jumped at it,” Mr. Procell said, flipping through racks of Junior Gaultier, Polo Ralph Lauren, Helmut Lang, Stephen Sprouse for Target and Christian Dior (the Galliano era). He waxed mystical: “I feel like a lot of the designer pieces we have here were at some point living here.”

Mr. Gindi hopes to open similar spaces in other Century 21 stores; there are now 13, between the New York metro area, Philadelphia and Florida.

“It’s tough right now,” Ms. Miller said. “It’s a good time for this. Everyone wants a deal, everyone wants a discount. Instead of fast fashion you can come here and get similar prices.”

Mr. Gindi chimed in: “In the early days it was hard. Off-price, it was like you were a leper. Today everybody sells to us, everybody loves us, everybody wants to be here.”