Whats Haute: Union Square

An area once used for rallies and demonstrations in support of the Union Army during the Civil War has transformed into a shopping mecca featuring one of the grandest collections of flagships and upscale boutiques on the West Coast. Bordered by Geary, Powell, Post, and Stockton Streets, Union Square remains the heart and soul of retail in San Francisco. Defined by public concerts, events, art showings, annual Christmas tree and Menorah lightings, and many other festivities, the plaza continuously awes residents and visitors alike with its uncommon zest. Haute Living readers demand the best of the best. So we are here to serve as your guide to the gems that stand out amongst the crowd at Union Square with their exquisiteness, charm, and grandeur.

Surrounding the Dewey Monument, native San Franciscans can be seen lounging and relaxing on any given day side by side with tourists taking in the many delectable restaurants located within the square. But it is the luxurious boutiques, with their intricate storefront facades complementing the distinguished neighborhood history, that make this such a sought-out destination. After a $25 million improvement project, which was completed seven years ago, the square is more enchanting than ever, attracting the most elite names in luxury retail. Take, for example, the new Bulgari boutique, opening in December 2009. The Italian luxury jeweler will be moving from a smaller location on Post Street to the corner of Stockton and Geary streets, which previously housed Gucci. While details have yet to be unveiled about the design of the interior, knowing the brand’s reputation as a fashion master, it is safe to say the outcome will not disappoint.

Bulgari is not the only store getting a fresh start. Other boutiques are undergoing extensive renovations to keep up with growing client bases and posh reputations. The redesigned Chanel boutique in San Francisco, described as one of the brand’s most enticing locales worldwide, will be unveiled on Maiden Lane this November. New York architect and Chanel collaborator Peter Marino designed the three-floor, 7,900-square-foot modish, feminine environment, which will showcase the Cruise 2009-10 Collection upon opening. The collection is inspired by Venice, and a handbag and shoe are exclusive to the San Francisco multiplex. Shoppers will be swept away by the custom-created, hand-plastered walls and ivory cabuca stone flooring that creates the perfect backdrop for the stunning handbags, watches, and jewelry. On the second floor, guests are greeted by tweed-inspired carpets that were custom designed for the San Francisco shop. Plush woven pink, beige, and white fabric chairs add to the elegance and magnetism the store emits. While there are 151 Chanel boutiques worldwide, this particular locale has a distinct charisma and glamour that is truly unrivaled.

Gucci, the historical fashion staple founded in Florence in 1921, brought its excellence and prestige to San Francisco with a boutique prominently located on Stockton Street. The 11,000-square-foot land of luxury takes on a persona a bit different than other, traditional Gucci storefronts. The double-height main floor, glowing bronze glass and metal façade, geometric lines, and symbolic detailing make this an architect’s dream destination. Creative Director Frida Giannini infused spectacular visual displays with light and transparency, paving the way for an innovative new look that embodies 21st-century Gucci. Like other shops from the revered brand, dark rosewood and marble remain intertwined in the aesthetic, but the Union Square boutique offers an added touch of flare with the introduction of new materials such as ribbed glass, warm polished gold, and smoked mirror and glass, evoking memories of the Art Deco era. Gucci’s striking signature shoes, jewelry, timepieces, accessories, and full selection of men and women’s ready-to-wear looks, coupled with this architectural haven, transforms what could be a normal shop into one of the most tantalizing boutiques in Union Square.

Dedicated to owning a presence in all of the most prestigious shopping locations, it is entirely understandable why Prada found itself a home at Union Square. Superseding a smaller, women’s-only Prada boutique on Geary Street, this flagship store designed by architect Roberto Bacicchi has grand entrances on three of the major shopping boulevards: Post Street, Grant Avenue, and Maiden Lane. Passersby can see the latest fashions simply by looking through the 10 shop windows on the ground floor and 13 on the first, each outfitted with black retro-painted glass. The main entrance to such a grandiose store must be equally impressive. In tribute to the original Prada store, opened in 1913 in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II, the premier entrance on Post Street features black and white checkered marble flooring and luxurious crystal furnishings, and opens to a slightly raised central area dedicated to handbags and accessories. The high ceilings, unusual design, and intricate fashions establish a sophisticated, enthralling tone.

Another longstanding flagship with recent renovations is Saks Fifth Avenue. The extensive and noteworthy upgrades to the already largest shoe department in San Francisco were completed in September 2008, enhancing Saks’ astounding and exuberant presence in the square. The designer shoe salon, dubbed 10022-SHOE after the famous New York flagship’s zip code, features legendary designers including Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Fendi, Givenchy, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Miu Miu, and Prada. A goal behind the renovation was to create a more intimate feeling for the new shoe salon, which is emphasized by the warm, light neutral hues accentuated by gold and silver, with jewel-toned upholstery. The space, adorned with a variety of chandeliers and vintage furniture pieces, aims to draw customers’ eyes to the footwear, which is delicately displayed on white glass, antique mirror limestone with white Carrera marble, and gray-stained wood. rest assured, the remainder of the store itself is just as impressive as the shoe collection. With handbags and cosmetics on the first floor, American and European designers on the third, and contemporary collections on the fifth, Saks Fifth Avenue is guaranteed to satisfy every shopper’s needs with the latest fashions from the most recognized luxury brands.

Unveiling its first boutique in San Francisco, world-renowned French jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels graces Neiman Marcus with its esteemed presence. British designer Anouska Hempel created a warm, friendly space featuring mid-gray armchairs, bold gray flooring accented by black lacquer, and green-gray walls in a 500-square-foot area on the first floor of the department store. Since a Van Cleef & Arpels boutique is nothing without the brand’s unparalleled collections, this locale includes the iconic Alhambra in all incarnations, diamond pieces from the Snowflake and Envol collections, and the Poetic Complication watch collection. Since Van Cleef’s launch in 1906, supreme craftsmanship, unchallenged quality, brilliant stones, and incredible design have been vital characteristics to the highly recognized trademark name.

Since its debut in Union Square a little more than a year ago, the 2,659-square-foot De Beers shop, located on Post Street, is the diamond destination.Guests perusing the interiors will be mesmerized by the lights reflecting off the precious stones and creating a sparkle throughout the store. The environment features open spaces, ebony walls, and etched-glass paneling strategically placed to enhance the jewelry. With high display counters reachable from all sides, there are no intimidating barriers, allowing the client to enjoy an up-close experience when selecting these prized possessions, and for those desiring private presentations, there is an exclusive VIP room. In addition to displaying new collections designed by De Beers creative director Raphaele Canot—including Talisman, Ice on Fire, and Radiance—the store also offers the De Beers Beauty Scan, which show buyers instant visual proof of a stone’s allure. De Beers’ diamonds are unique in that the cuts are not optimized for carat weight but rather for beauty. A special and distinct serial number, invisible to the naked eye, is engraved on every diamond more than .3 carats to provide security to the customer.

The iconic Cartier originally opened its Union Square doors in 1984, and since has become an integral part of the San Francisco community. The newly expanded boutique on Post Street is double the size of the previous shop, accommodating—and welcoming—the crowds in Union Square. Designed by Paris-based architect Bruno Moinard and executed by Barteluce Architects & Associates, the space increased from 2,700 square feet to 6,000. Along with the renowned Fifth Avenue mansion in New York and the Rodeo Drive boutique in Beverly Hills, this outpost is Cartier’s third official flagship. Boasting a unique design, the store combines traditional and avant-garde elements to create a striking and engaging retail space. Grand ceilings allow for more light, providing an airy, spacious ambiance. Adorned with oak paneling and a muted palette, the entryway features a one-of-a-kind glass Murano chandelier. The additional space allows for a timepiece salon featuring a dedicated horologist who is happy to show popular Cartier collections such as Tank, Santos, Roadster, and Pasha, as well as the intricate watches from the Privée collection and the brand new Ballon Bleu. In addition to offering more timepieces, the boutique has a plethora of engagement rings, bridal jewelry, and a new bridal salon. For men that need advice on selecting the perfect engagement ring, a bridal specialist will serve as an aide, offering suggestions to help select the perfect piece. For those who want to view jewelry and watches sans the prying eyes of other clients, an intimate, private viewing room is now available.

Another colossal giant amongst the chic Union Square shops, Montblanc offers jewelry, eyewear, fragrances, and leather products to go with their infamous writing instruments. The white marble floor, which displays the Montblanc symbol in the store’s center, is a sharp contrast to the onyx colored cabinetry. Cufflinks, wallets, and belts are displayed as if in a museum in brilliant glass cases. Patrons are offered savory chocolates and Champagne to enjoy while waiting for an associate to engrave the pieces.

Despite the recession, tourists and residents have continued flocking to Union Square, relishing in the remarkable and rare shopping experienc. The current superfluity of luxury stores has not deterred other posh brands from migrating to the area, adding their staple designs and veteran prowess to the significant historical sector. Without a doubt, the magnificent square will endure and continue to grace society with its whimsicality and flare. For an online shopping guide to these haute boutiques and many more, visit www.UnionSquareShop.com.