Get ready for over-the-top gardens, a beloved Bal Harbour restaurant and lavish decor. It will all be found at the long-awaited luxury wing of American Dream in East Rutherford, N.J. which has set the opening date of September 17 for its high-end destination. The Avenue, as the area is called, has been plagued with setbacks, from the bankruptcy of Barneys New York, a one-time a tenant, to the Covid-19 pandemic.
To hear chief creative officer Ken Downing tell it, The Avenue will be as resplendent as ever with enormous crystal chandeliers, elaborate gardens and sculptures by Jonathan Adler, who served as creative director for special projects.
The 300,000-square-foot space will be anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, marking the retailer’s return to New Jersey after closing its last store in the state in 2016. Hermes is opening a large store, and other nameplates will include Tiffany & Co., Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana and Mulberry, among others. On the more affordable side, Zadig & Voltaire, Johnny Was and Adler are also opening stores at The Avenue.
“It’s a long time coming,” Downing said of The Avenue. “Brands showed great enthusiasm for American Dream. With the strength of online shopping, some of our partners had a little bit of trepidation. We’re seeing the customer respond to brick and mortar. The wonderful thing is our partners at Saks are so excited about coming back to New Jersey.”
It remains to be seen whether luxury customers will want to shop at the 3 million-square-foot center, which features a Dream Works water park and Nickelodeon amusement park, as well as hundreds of more affordably-priced stores. Downing said The Avenue has a dedicated entrance and valet, allowing high-end shoppers to walk straight into the environment.
Adler first shared his aesthetic with American Dream when he designed VIP skybox cabanas for the Dream Works Water Park, drawing inspiration from Capri, Bali and Tulum. “The cabanas are a home run,” Downing said. “They’re booked solid. Jonathan couldn’t say no to doing the luxury wing.
“It has this wonderful high Eighties, slightly Art Deco, very boutique, intimate hotel vibe,” Downing added. “It’s fairly sophisticated and chic, but it’s Jonathan, so there’s a wink and a nod, and it’s playful.”
A fish pond and garden in front of Saks and Hermes is designed for maximum entertainment with Adler’s eight-foot to 16-foot oversize sculptures based on his Muse collection, and Paloma Tepper of Plants of the Future’s fantastical two-story topiaries.”
In contrast to the vastness of the 3 million-square-foot American Dream, Dowing said, “There’s a lovely intimacy that we’ve brought to The Avenue. It’s lush. I continue to work with Schumacher, which is doing a lot of spectacular fabrics that are very residential but are being done in a commercial grade.”
Don Ghermezian, president of American Dream, previously projected sales per square foot at the center of $2,000. Downing declined to provide a figure, but said, “All the brands in the other courts are performing very well and the parks continue to be such an important piece of American Dream. We had a spectacular spring break season. The parks are filling to capacity.”
American Dream has had a long and troubled history. Mills Corp. in 2005 broke ground on Xanadu — as the project previous name — but ran out of money and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Colony Capital in 2006 became the site’s next developer but pulled out of the project in 2010. The gigantic property in the Meadowlands was taken over by Triple Five, which owns and manages Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., among other shopping-cum-entertainment centers.
The opening date of The Avenue was chosen to coincide with New York Fashion Week, September 8 through September 12. While Downing previously said he’d stage a runway show during fashion week, that will have to wait until the end of September or beginning of October. The Avenue has a 60-foot fountain that converts to a runway.
“With the energy that’s already beginning to build around what fashion week could be, it makes sense that we would want to be part of that story,” Downing said. “The 20-plus stores that we’ll be opening will be a great addition to American Dream, and there will be more stores opening as construction is completed.”
The elevated retail experience will be complimented by fine dining options, such as Carpaccio, a Bal Harbour favorite, serving fashionable fare at its first Northeast location at American Dream. Brüt, a champagne bar, will expand the food and beverage options with a menu of savories, sweets and bubbles.
Downing is also curating an exhibit about American fashion for The Avenue. “We want to celebrate American designers with current in-new season clothes,” he said. “It will share the diversity and magnitude of American designers. I will channel a bit of Diana Vreeland and the unexpected voice she brought to fashion. We’re [building] a thriving community.”