On a recent visit to my hometown, in Chicago's suburbs, my mother and I took a ritual trip to what I know as Old Orchard, now Westfield Shoppingtown Old Orchard.
We hit the usual spots — Bloomingdale's, Marshall Field's; lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. And then we happened by Gap Inc.'s new Forth & Towne store, one of five that opened in August. Four are in the Chicago area and one is in West Nyack, N.Y.
Forth & Towne is Gap's attempt to attract the over-35 crowd and its enormous disposable income. With the market almost saturated with the retail giant's other brands — Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic — it decided to create a new brand, much as it did with Old Navy in the ‘90s. Forth & Towne was born.
The numbers tell the story. Gap found that it sells to 8 percent of American women under 35, but reaches only 3 percent of older women — who we all know are underserved.
I'm a few years older than 35, so I wasn't sure I was the right demographic. But not only did I find a beautiful sheer blouse in a dramatic turquoise and brown paisley print and a gray cashmere sweater jacket, but my mother, who turned 86 last month, found a sweater in luscious cornflower blue.
When you think of it, the over-35 crowd includes a diverse group of women — from fashionista Sarah Jessica Parker to frumpy Harriet Miers. While Forth & Towne might not appeal to individuals at the fashion-forward and fashion-not ends of the spectrum, it has potential for the in-betweens.
The clothes work for grown-up women who want a sense of style and flair, without having to resort to crop-tops and mini-skirts a la the Paris Hilton crowd. The latest couture shows featured underwear as outerwear, which I would consider a horrible trend even if I weren't fifty-something.
The store design is by hip artiste David Rockwell — who created the look of Nobu 57, a Manhattan sushi restaurant with backlit black marble and warped and textured woods. Rockwell has an eye for the theatrical; he designed the sets for Broadway productions Hairspray and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Forth & Towne is considerably more sedate than Hairspray. But it works as an well-lit, spacious store for women who don't want to sort through racks and racks of clothing, like, by the way, I had do at Field's (soon to be Macy's). At Forth & Towne, clothes are arranged according to in-house brands: Allegory — feminine and classic; Vocabulary — comfortable, with rich knits and accented with prints and jewelry; Prize — fun, wearable trends; and Gap Edition — everyday essentials. And within those sections, they are set apart according to colors and hues.
The look of the store is gracious and elegant. Perhaps most interesting is the “fitting salon.” Dressing rooms are built in a circle around a central core that feels a bit like the lobby of an intimate boutique hotel. Fashion magazines, bottled water and accessories are scattered on decorative tables surrounded by comfy chairs. My mom and I met in the middle and approved of each other's picks.
As always when I'm with my mother, it was a day well spent — pun intended.
Locations: Westfield Shoppingtown Old Orchard, Skokie, Ill.; Algonquin Commons, Algonquin, Ill.; Fox Valley Mall, Aurora, Ill.; Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, Ill.; Palisades Center Mall, West Nyack, N.Y.
Owner: Gap Inc.
Demographic: Women, 35 and older