That’s Entertainment: Bloomingdale’s Infuses Shopping With Films, Shows and Theater

·8 min read

From an in-store performance by the four comedic Marx brothers in January 1934 to a few episodes of the 2022 HBO series “The Gilded Age,” Bloomingdale’s has provided the backdrop for all kinds of entertainment through the years.

In-store scenes were shot for Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” in 1979, “9 1/2 Weeks” in 1986, “Bride Wars” in 2009 and other feature films. The company hasn’t just provided locations for select movies, TV shows and theatrical performances — it has brought those productions to life as a way to connect with shoppers and also sell more goods.

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In 2001, for example, Bloomingdale’s went all-in with a “Moulin Rouge” concept shop and lined up the film’s star Nicole Kidman and some of her castmates to do a can-can performance for shoppers. The store’s then-senior vice president of fashion direction Kal Ruttenstein first was intrigued by the Baz Luhrmann-directed film after seeing an Annie Leibovitz-photographed shoot in Vogue and 20th Century Fox then contacted the marketing team about a partnership. The fact that the spirit of Moulin Rouge had hovered over the Paris collections prior to its release didn’t hurt either.

The retailer’s ties to theater include “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Bloomingdale’s,” a 1970 rock opera, and more recent performances by Broadway actors and musicians in its flagship. And that appearance by the Marx brothers didn’t just provide some comic relief during the Great Depression — the foursome were on the sales floor to help celebrate the opening of Charlie Drapkin’s dress business. But there was only one model so they wouldn’t stay, WWD reported at that time.

Bloomingdale’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer Frank Berman referenced the Marx brothers’ appearance right-out-of-the-gate during a recent interview to illustrate the company’s track record for hosting and maximizing entertainment-related endeavors. ”The whole idea of community, entertainment and giving back has been part of Bloomingdale’s DNA, since the store opened 150 years ago,” he said. “Bloomingdale’s is a pop culture zeitgeist and that does lead to commerce. When we can connect the entertainment value and the experience with the product that works really well with it, we see great results. We see great customer engagement but we also are rewarded with great commerce.”

In advance of the company’s 150th anniversary, Berman and his team have dived into the archives of The New York Times, Hearst and other resources to get a deeper understanding of its history and evolution over the past 15 decades. The retailer’s long-term entwinement with entertainment is evident in every decade that followed; there were a multitude of other in-store experiences that were designed “to make people smile as they shopped,” Berman said.

While the Moulin Rouge one was singled out as a favorite, Berman also pointed to a more recent one in 2017 with Zendaya related to “The Greatest Showman.” The flagship’s holiday windows featured recreated scenes and songs from the Oscar-nominated flick and Zendaya turned up for an outdoor performance and the unveiling. Berman also spoke enthusiastically about a photo shoot that was done with the musician-actress and her stylist Law Roach and the amount of attention that they gave to the project. Zendaya’s large social media following was another plus for the retailer in attracting the next generation of shoppers.

Other highlights were such performances as John Legend’s six-song delivery for the 2019 unveiling of holiday windows and various abbreviated song-and-dance renditions from 10 Broadway shows that were staged at the flagship in 2021 to help the theater community following the pandemic shutdown.

“This connection of Bloomingdale’s with pop culture and the vibrancy of entertainment” has also been evident through special events with such shows as “Rent” and “Hairspray,” or TV and streaming shows like “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Bridgerton,” Berman said.

Beyond entertaining, the aim is to provide “of-the-moment” products, as evidenced by the The Carousel @ Bloomingdale’s: Bridgerton pop-up shop. Berman and his team worked with the show’s producers and Netflix representatives to curate the three-month, 1,600-square-foot shop and online offerings that opened in March and tied in well to spring fashion trends, he said. All of the women’s and men’s fashions were inspired by the show and featured exclusive collections by female designers of color. Beauty, home decor and childrenswear were also offered. “There were really great sell-throughs but also really great engagement with customers,” Berman said.

Addressing the appeal of entertainment-related projects, Berman said, “Ultimately, it’s about a collective mind share with the consumers that we have today and the ones that we hope to capture tomorrow. Having Bloomingdale’s remain relevant can be seen throughout our history in the way we are at the forefront of things that are hot and what’s next. That connection to pop culture — whether it’s TV, movies or theater — can be seen in our history.”

“Bridgerton,” for example, provided an opportunity with a very popular show that was entering its second season and the fact that its on-air fashion worked well with spring trends resulted in a “home run,” Berman said. “Having a cast that is wonderful and diverse usually leads to success. That’s how we make those decisions.”

The retailer has been featured in more than 30 films dating back to the ’70s. Fans of the sitcom “Friends” recognize the store as where Jennifer Aniston’s character worked as a personal shopper in the show’s third season in 1994. Playing a mermaid in the 1984 film “Splash,” Daryl Hannah’s character sees a commercial for the store and visits it to learn about pop culture. That same year, Robin Williams appeared as a Soviet circus musician who defects in Bloomingdale’s in “Moscow on the Hudson.” Barbra Streisand’s role in “The Mirror Has Two Faces” in 1986 called for a lunch at Bloomingdale’s and in the 2001 flick “Serendipity,” the leads John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet in the store when each is trying to buy the same pair of gloves.

Much consideration is given to prospects before the retailer commits. “The main criteria is, ‘Does it fit well with our brand and is it something that our customers will appreciate as added value?’” Berman said.

He noted how the retailer’s model rooms in its furniture gallery were first set up to give people a different type of experience, as were multicountry promotions that were meant to relay a spirit of international travel. Food has been another medium to attract and entice consumers with celebrity chef appearances. Musical performances also have been a mainstay. Berman emphasized that all of these initiatives are meant to be not just an education but an inspiration that dovetails into fashion trends.

As the speed of entertainment production has cranked up and consumers have become increasingly fickle due partially to a barrage of options, the task of choosing project partners has intensified. “Certainly, the digital age has democratized everyone’s ability to be an influencer of some sort and to create content. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to rise to the occasion and bring content, experiences, partnerships and merchandise collaborations that will break through the clutter and resonate with the customer that we have today, who is very loyal, and the next generation of consumers that we want for tomorrow,“ Berman said. “We need to balance those things because we’re a marketplace of sorts with four generations of customers that we cater to who are of multiple genders, ethnicities and of diverse demographics across the U.S. and internationally as well. But it’s always about being true to our brand and the spirit of Bloomingdale’s, which is a place of energy, enlightenment and great curation. It’s a recipe that brings all of these ingredients together in a contemporary way and delivers an exciting experience.”

Social media followings are, of course, considered. From the smallest to the largest potential partners, Bloomingdale’s considers whether they engage actively with the community. The team weighs whether they are of the right demographic and psychographic that the retailer is trying to attract. But Berman said that approach is similar to choosing titles or options from Condé Nast, Hearst and The New York Times. “It went from having three TV networks, a few powerhouse publications and multiple newspapers across the country and now you have thousands and thousands of monetized publishers that you can work with to communicate your message. Some are more mass and some are more tailored.”

Assessing entertainment-related events like those with “Bridgerton,” “The Greatest Showman” and the “Stellabration” earlier this year that included a live digital appearance by Stella McCartney, when her designs took over the Carousel, takes some work. Executives take into account attendance, in-store and online traffic, evaluation of purchases. The aim is for participants to feel after an entertainment event, “‘Wow, I just left the 59th Street store or a livestream event or the Century City store and I’ve got this great product that I purchased that works well with my lifestyle,” Berman said.

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