The year 2024 will mark the monumental 200th anniversary of Fifth Avenue, a street that was first established in 1824 to clearly delineate the west and east sides of New York City. By 1870, Fifth Avenue had started to grow into the city’s premier luxury shopping district thanks to Tiffany & Co. moving its flagship to the burgeoning street. In the decades to follow, anchors like Bergdorf’s and Cartier would follow suit, and traditions like the annual Rock Center Christmas Tree would become synonymous with Fifth Avenue. Even in more recent years, luxury brands continue to flock to the avenue, with some of the biggest names in the world like Chanel and Rolex slated to join the roster of flagships on Fifth Avenue in the next two years.
In part two of this series, we continue to explore the modern evolution of the avenue and the exceptional offerings and experiences from today’s retailers that make this destination truly remarkable two centuries years later.
Growth in the Mid-Century
The first 100 years of Fifth Avenue proved to be a vital time in solidifying the street as the epicenter of luxury retail in New York City. Into the mid-1900s, commercial space became more and more coveted thanks to new zoning laws imposed by the city. During this time period, we would see brands take root on the avenue that have since become mainstays of this prime retail destination.
Van Cleef & Arpels came to Fifth Avenue in 1942, cozying up to Bergdorf’s near 57th Street. The flagship marked the French jeweler’s first outpost in the States. In 2014, the boutique got a facelift thanks to the Parisian design firm Jouin Manku Studio. Similar to the Cartier Mansion, the goal of the redesign was to make the space evoke the intimacy of a family home as an ode to the Van Cleef and Arpels families who ran the business through several generations before being acquired by the Richemont group in 1999. In that spirit, the second floor of the flagship features a private dining area for VIP guests. Today, it’s home to the highest volume of high jewelry, heritage jewelry, and exceptional watches among the brand’s three U.S. boutiques.
In 1960, Harry Winston joined Fifth Avenue at 55th Street. While more global, European-based brands helped to bring worldwide attention to the luxury thoroughfare, Harry Winston’s move was crucial in maintaining the local charm of the area. The “King of Diamonds” was a New York City native, and his love of his hometown was clearly reflected in the flagship and its core product lines. Within the brand’s catalog, Harry Winston pays homage to the iconic street with the Fifth Avenue Sapphire and Diamond Arch necklace inspired by the grandeur of Fifth Avenue’s iconic archway and its Avenue collection of watches. Before the pandemic, Harry Winston announced plans to totally revamp its historic flagship, with the highly anticipated renovation slated to be unveiled in early 2024.
The next decade welcomed the Bulgari flagship to the avenue. The Italian jeweler initially established an outpost in the iconic Pierre Hotel at the corner of 61st Street and Fifth Avenue in 1972. Eventually, Bulgari moved into its current space in the landmark Crown Building at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in 1989. Today, the flagship is home to the largest high jewelry collection in the U.S. This includes a number of one-of-a-kind pieces and collections exclusive to the North American market, like the Monete Capsule that launched in 2022 celebrating 50 years of Bulgari in the States. A few years ago, the space got an overhaul from architect Peter Marino. The concept reflects the brand’s Roman roots with an assortment of bold textures and colors thanks to an array of carefully sourced materials including fine marbles, precious walnut, iron and brass metals, and luxurious silks and velvets.
The prominent German retailer Wempe joined Fifth Avenue in 1980, occupying half a city block between 54th and 55th Streets. True to its roots, the brand is one of the premier authorized dealers of luxury watches on the iconic street. Today, Wempe is the only retailer who sells Rolex on Fifth Avenue. It has even gone on to create its own timepieces, like its collaboration with Chopard in honor of its 40th anniversary. Wempe also offers exclusive jewelry and accessories at its Fifth Avenue flagship, like Serafino Consoli rings, earrings, pendants, and bracelets. Down in the store’s lower level, you can view their selection of winders and safes, which can be custom color matched to say, the exact hue of your Bentley or Rolls Royce.
200 Years Later, Fifth Avenue Still Epitomizes NYC Real Estate at Its Prime
Into the new millennium, the growth on Fifth Avenue hasn’t slowed down; it’s gained momentum. In 2004, we saw the French luxury powerhouse Louis Vuitton hit the avenue at 57th Street. After nearly 20 years in the space, the brand announced its plans to completely redesign the flagship earlier this spring. While it will likely be years in the making, LVMH intends to demolish Louis Vuitton’s current 19-story structure along with the smaller adjacent building to the north, which is now occupied by Hublot who also falls under the LVMH umbrella. The coveted corner space has no height limit imposed by the city and could feasibly be developed into an outpost nearly twice the size of the current location.
Louis Vuitton isn’t the only luxury brand bringing a fresh perspective to Fifth Avenue. Over the past year alone, there have been a slew of new store openings including Chopard in December of 2022 as well as TAG Heuer this summer. Before the end of the year, Swarovski and Citizen will also be opening the doors of their new flagships on Fifth Avenue.
Chopard joins Bulgari in the famous Art Deco-era Crown Building between 56th and 57th Streets. Its move was strategic from its previous Madison Avenue location, which notably had less foot traffic than the coveted real estate on Fifth Avenue. TAG Heuer’s new home is several blocks south between 52nd and 51st Streets. The flagship marks a one-of-a-kind concept for North America complete with interactive, multimedia elements like the freestanding Connected Watch display and dedicated spaces for VIP guests like a private lounge. It also offers a number of exceptional wares like the North American exclusive Carrera Skipper Chronograph, Carrera Chronograph Tourbillon Glassbox, and the Rose Gold Chronospirit.
Coming soon to Fifth Avenue this holiday season, Swarovski and Citizen will inaugurate their flagships on the illustrious street. The brand new Swarovski boutique will be located at the corner of 54th Street occupying a two-story location and will mark the brand’s first-ever flagship in America. Stroll just a few blocks south and you’ll find Citizen’s first ever multi-brand flagship showroom outside of Japan. The three-story space will include two floors of retail with boutique-only exclusives, while the third floor will serve as a museum of archival pieces celebrating the brand’s rich heritage.
In the next two years, we will continue to see some long-awaited, powerhouse brands set up residence on Fifth Avenue. Early next year, Chanel is slated to open its High Jewelry Boutique on the street, and in 2025, Rolex is set to erect a 30-story tower for its new U.S. Headquarters at the corner of 53rd Street. Here, The Crown has allotted the first four floors of the nearly 200,000-square foot space for retail while the middle floors will serve as office space and the top level will feature a private dining and event space. The architectural plans outline a wood-paneled frontage along Fifth Avenue and a triple-height atrium.
Fifth Avenue Is the Destination This Holiday Season
There’s no better time to experience Fifth Avenue in all its glory than during the holiday season. John D. Rockefeller Jr. was largely responsible for making the street a holiday hotspot thanks to the draw of the emblematic Rock Center Christmas Tree. In recent years, the city has bolstered the holiday experience on the avenue with new open-street policies, which will be expanded this year. The 2023 version will set a record for New York City’s largest-ever holiday season-specific Open Street. Here, the iconic Fifth Avenue corridor will be fully open to pedestrians between 48th and 59th Streets on three Sundays in December (3, 10, and 17) between noon and 6:00 PM.
“Every year, Fifth Avenue transforms into an elegant winter wonderland, and this year, Open Streets will once again turn the avenue into a roomy pedestrian haven for visitors to enjoy our Gift of Fifth holiday lineup, featuring festive performances, unique food and shopping experiences, and famously beautiful décor,” said Marie Boster, president, Fifth Avenue Association. “As Fifth comes alive with seasonal spirit and some of the most famous window displays in the world, the Open Streets initiative shines a spotlight on the businesses and retailers that the city and region have come to rely on.”