Midtown Manhattan has been one of the most coveted spots in the world for fashion houses. Now, it’s emptying out.
Calvin Klein announced Thursday that it would close its Madison Avenue store in the spring. It joins an exodus that includes Ralph Lauren (RL), Lord & Taylor and Henri Bendel. Gap (GPS) also said over the holidays that it was on its way out, and Versace is reportedly looking to leave Fifth Avenue, too.
The departures show how the role of the flagship fashion store has changed. In many cases, high rent in Midtown Manhattan has made a physical store there untenable. And changes in consumer behavior have forced many of these brands to rethink their strategies.
In April 2013, when the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh crumbled and killed more than a thousand garment workers, Western clothing executives were chastened. They were the ones, after all, who’d been pressuring Bangladesh’s apparel factories to cheaply reproduce runway trends for consumers in the U.S. and Europe who’d grown used to $10 dresses. Following the accident, H&M, Zara, Walmart, Gap, and other major brands announced they’d fund and oversee factory inspections in Bangladesh, demanding improvements from facilities that fell short and cutting off business with those that didn’t get better. Bangladesh, with the help of the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO), created its own inspection program and vowed to shut down unsafe facilities. Better vigilance, everyone figured, would be central to preventing similar accidents from happening again.