What’s Good In Seattle: There’s More Than Meets The Eye

Lois Castelli-Leff
Posted on February 05, 2016, 11:15 am
19 mins

I blame stretchy denim fabrics and pretty flowing tops for contributing to my slacking off from my exercise regime this last month, much to my dear doctors’ chagrin. I am reluctant to further admit that body slimming lingerie took the place of much-needed sit-ups, crunches, and other abdominal exercises. Am I the only one who dropped the ball, leading up to and past the moment that the New Year’s Eve ball fell marking the arrival of 2016?  Now that the holiday celebrations are officially over, I’ve gotten myself back on track for the new year—at least until Thanksgiving!

Inspired by my editors’ choice for Vanguard Seattle’s January theme, Keeping Up Appearances, this month’s What’s Good is focused on the major transformations that three companies are constructing in our midst. While they are making changes to their company to stay relevant, current and fresh, these particular businesses also help us keep up appearances. As I delved into each company’s visions a little more, I learned that there is always so much more than meets the eye.

WARBY PARKER

Speaking of eyes, Warby Parker‘s in town! Leave it to a new generation to break open the business of fashion eyewear. Not only is the designer eyewear store on-trend and affordable, they are committed to having a net zero carbon footprint, being one of the few carbon-neutral eyewear companies worldwide. They are passionate about providing eye care to the developing world through their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair collaboration with VisionSpring, which has distributed glasses to over one million people in need.

The company was started in the Venture Initiation Program of the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania by Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa and Jeffrey Raider, and these astute “under 30” entrepreneurs show the older generation a new way. As in other transformative business models, the creators circumvented traditional channels resulting in the ability to offer high-quality products at a fraction of the normal going price–$95, in fact! Their design is done in-house, and though most of the company’s name recognition comes from their online presence, they have a growing number of retail locations nationwide.

Seattle is Warby Parker’s newest home. After searching the area, they landed a great spot for their friendly store right on the busy corner of Fremont Avenue. In keeping with their love of books and the literary world, the brand’s cleverly designed boutique conjures up the feeling of a retro newsroom, complete with Remington-colored blue and green typewriters, coffee mugs, checkered oak floors and a selection of books from favorite independent publishers, like McSweeney’s, New Directions and The Figures.

If their love of literature wasn’t obvious enough through the store’s scholarly decorating scheme, the company’s name offers another layer of book-related quirk:

“In May 2009, our co-founder Dave was wandering around the New York Public Library when he stumbled into an exhibition about Jack Kerouac. The four of us had long been inspired by Kerouac, who spurred a generation to take the road less traveled. The exhibit included some of Kerouac’s manuscripts, drafts, and journals. In one of the journals, Dave noticed two characters with interesting names: Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker. We combined the two and came up with Warby Parker.”

The annex in Seattle is a fun take on their “bookish appreciation and inspiration.” A stacked book window installation adorns their facade, and when you enter the store you are greeted with a large cement block which represents their “very own writer’s block,” upon which customers can scribble their five-word memoirs. When I visited the store for the first time, I noticed a little boy eyeing the robins egg blue typewriter, and he was encouraged to sit and type. Perhaps the next Kerouac?

PHOTO ©SARA ESSEX BRADLEY

Warby Parker interior. Photo by Sara Essex Bradley.

A Reference Desk, where you’ll notice artwork from artist and designer Jason Munn, is your one-stop shop for pickups, adjustments and more. Warby Parker advisors are always at the ready with suggestions for picking out your most flattering frame. Every detail of the store has been well thought out, right down to the wardrobe of the sales personnel, designed by Whitney Pozgay. Her “uncluttered silhouettes, 1960s-inspired details, and sense of playfulness make her the perfect mastermind for our staple store wardrobe,” Warby Parker representatives revealed.

The owners at Warby Parker are always looking to expand their horizons and partnered with Nordstrom’s Pop-In Shop last fall to bring a specially curated mix of frames to select Nordstrom stores nationwide (including our very own flagship store downtown!). Warby Parker’s stylish frames and the easy city-living lifestyle that their brand represents made this collaboration perfectly on point, and speaks to Nordstrom’s ability to recognize up and coming companies and trends.

NORDSTROM COSMETICS AND SKINCARE 

The Nordstrom name is known worldwide for their impeccable customer service, upscale merchandise, and trendsetting mastery, and they truly are the gold standard of retail. The downtown Nordstrom flagship store recently completed their fresh and modern renovation of the cosmetics department, and it is obvious that the customer experience was kept carefully in mind during the upgrade. As part of their huge renovation plan, Nordstrom set out to deliver a fundamentally new shopping experience. Do you remember the feeling of excitement as a kid in the middle of a candy shop? That’s the feeling you get as you immerse yourself in the new Beauty Department at Nordstrom.

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Nordstrom Beauty Department. Photo by Lois Castelli-Leff.

Loredana Grama, the National Beauty Director for Nordstrom’s Cosmetics and Skin Care Division, gave me insight into the inspiration for the new design: “We always try to listen intently to our customers. We work hard to make sure that we serve our customers on their own terms.” Customer input was the driving force behind the new interactive and pressure-free shopping experience delivered at Nordstrom, and Grama and the entire team are very excited to present their new beauty department to the public.

During a tour of the department with Kristen Berenguer, one of Nordstrom’s department managers, I was introduced to their new lines from Tom Ford’s Beauty Collection, Charlotte Tilbury, Urban Decay, Le Labo, Temptu Airbrush Makeup Applicators and Hermès fragrances, right alongside Nordstrom’s tried and true lines from over forty outstanding designers! As an added treat, the department has also added a mini nail spa and a semi-private eyebrow waxing room dedicated to Anastasia Beverly Hills Beauty Company, who has cultivated a long-time following at Nordstrom.

Remember the old-fashioned way to purchase cosmetics, with large counters that separated you from the products? In an innovative move, Nordstrom removed all the barriers. Their new open cell environment allows customers to go right up to the products and touch them, look at the ingredients, test them, and also fill their own samples to take home. There are no blockades. You are encouraged to open the drawers, browse through them and gather things that you would like to purchase. It’s easier now than ever to sample items and try products at an affordable price!

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Nordstrom Beauty Department. Photo by Lois Castelli-Leff.

Taking a cue from the hospitality of upscale hotels, the department now includes a new Beauty Concierge desk. Stationed in the center of the department, this brilliant service is offered so that every customer’s needs can be met, making shopping easier than ever before. Beauty Specialists are available to assist at all of the beauty counters, happy to answer specific questions about each of the brands, and act as a personal guide to the many distinctive products offered at Nordstrom. It is truly a customer service-based addition, as the beauty specialists do everything from greeting, answering questions and helping customers with their selections to gathering merchandise for online orders to ensure accuracy and speedy deliveries. Beauty Stylists are there to help you shop for all your needs across all brands, and also offer pick-me-up makeup applications and beauty consultations free of charge.

For shoppers who don’t have the time for browsing, Nordstrom has you covered. The Top Picks counter has narrowed down the offerings so you can grab what you need, test it and make a quick decision with the confidence that it will be high quality. For those who like to stay in vogue, the Trending Now counter features the hottest and most popular new beauty products every two weeks. However, my favorite new section is the Mini Must Haves counter, which features travel-sized versions of great products at even greater price points. It is an awesome way to test out products without making a big commitment, and the items are hand picked by the department’s specialists and includes many brands’ top items.

It’s easy to see the customer-focused motivation behind Nordstrom’s new Beauty Department. Every change caters to the shopper, and the new counters, floor plan, product lines, and customer service positions make the experience even more enjoyable than before! You’ll leave the store feeling like a cared-for customer, and (just as importantly) looking your absolute best.

OLYMPIC ATHLETIC CLUB

When keeping up appearances, it is essential to feel good from the inside out–we all know how important exercise is to help us stay fit and healthy. At the Olympic Athletic Club, the atmosphere feels much different than your typical sweaty gym. It smells and feels as if you are walking into a beautiful fitness spa while on a fabulous vacation.

Club owners Jim and Debera Riggle started the OAC with the goal of creating an atmospheric and elegant fitness club where people can feel at home, whether working out or relaxing in the sauna. Current General Manager Mark Durall thinks very highly of the Riggles, and is passionate about the club and all that they offer to the community.  As Mark spoke about the club and described the many wonderful details, I couldn’t help but think, “Where do I sign up?”

The building has been a gathering place in Ballard for over 100 years and resides in what was once known as “The Royals District.” The building’s rich history dates back to 1889 when Ballard’s business district began to be developed. It is a historic part of the community and the owners feel a sincere sense of responsibility to keep the traditional feel of the original building intact.

Mixing the old with beautiful new construction, the newly remodeled building holds an old world charm, complete with tasteful finishing details envisioned by Debera Riggle herself. Every single brick was preserved and will continue to welcome the next generation of clients, who will be thrilled with the large picture windows, high exposed ceilings, old restored hardwood floors and the lobby’s chandeliers. The newly designed space utilizes as much of the original building as possible (they even used a sheer wall to create a bouldering wall, which looks more like a sculpture rather than a piece of exercise equipment). Also, instead of  the traditional single large room filled with training equipment, the OAC creates specific spaces for different forms of exercise.

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Olympic Athletic Club interior. Photo by Eva Blanchard.

Jim Riggle’s idea of a great health club is one that offers its members a variety of options to achieve and maintain their health and fitness goals, all under one roof. The experience begins with the front end staff who are “good shepherds” of the members. Mark proudly states, “The members of the staff are there to help people experience what the club has to offer. Their main goal is to help you feel good.”

The OAC has much to offer, including a sauna, jacuzzi, steam room, and two pools. The facility also has both public and private workout areas, which include treadmills, work benches, elliptical and weights. I am happy to say that the entire facility was immaculate, right down to the clean pools and fresh air, thanks to their modern air filtering system. Mark escorted me on a tour of the entire club and each space was unique, including a grand ballroom where a friendly pick-up game of basketball was taking place. During various times of the day, the ballroom is also used to hold over 100 fitness and dance classes, and additional classes are offered in the spinning room and CrossFit studio as well. The choices are never-ending!

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Olympic Athletic Club interior. Photo by Eva Blanchard.

The OAC recently update their membership and pricing policy, restructuring it so that each member is treated equally and asked to pay the same price. This serves the mission of maintaining the integrity of the club, and welcomes everyone into their family. Mark’s passionate mantra upholds this mission: “We want people to feel as if this is an extension of their home.”

Supporting local charities is a big focus of the club, and Mark couldn’t say enough good things about the members of the club and their support. “Each year we have a giving tree, and we are overwhelmed by the generosity of our members.  Last year, our members donated enough gifts to fill three truckloads worth of gifts to the Salvation Army. We are like a family here.”

The club is open 24 hours and is free to all hotel guests at the Hotel Ballard, which is also owned by the Riggles and boasts a beautiful lobby, guest rooms, and a rooftop pavilion available for events. There are many restaurants to choose from in the area, including the Hotel restaurant Stoneburner, where Chef Jason Stoneburner’s stone hearth Mediterranean-style cuisine is nicely paired with the natural bounty of the Pacific Northwest. The popular restaurant is furnished with architectural objects and antiques from around the world, which creates an interesting and inviting atmosphere.
An endless amount of thought and consideration for the customer drives the mission of Warby Parker, Nordstrom and the Olympic Athletic Club alike. Their accomplishments are on a grand scale, and thanks to each of their brands and renovations, we are all enthusiastic about keeping up our appearances!  Feeling good and looking good go hand in hand…

Wishing you good health and happiness in 2016!

Lois Castelli-Leff
Lois Castelli-Leff is a Long Island transplant, 28 years in Seattle. She has a degree in fashion merchandising from FIT and BA in textiles and merchandising from SUNY at Oneonta. Her work experience includes fashion sales and styling at Macy's NYC and Nordstrom. She held regional sales executive position at both Perry Ellis and Anne Klein and has an extensive background in showroom sales, trade shows and fashion show production. Her community service includes serving as an art docent through the Frye Art Museum and speech coach at Our Lady of Fatima, choreographer for the Magnolia Theatre, and is a member of the Katie McKay Circle. Lois founded her business, Senti, in 2010 producing glass crosses. She has three beautiful children and a dog, Baci.