What the Trumps’ arrival in Washington means for a luxury mall

On an overcast January afternoon, just days before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the scene was mostly quiet at CityCenterDC, a sleek open-air complex of luxury stores (Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Moncler, Dior and more), restaurants, office buildings and residences that opened in Washington’s downtown about three years ago to raised eyebrows and a certain amount of skepticism.

After all, in Washington, “fashion isn’t a top priority for people,” said Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies,” who has lived there since 2005.

Or at least it hasn’t been. But that could all be changing. “Glamour really seems to be coming back to the city,” said Trina Sams-Manning, the boutique director of Dior at CityCenterDC. “That seems to be a mission of this new administration. That bodes well for us.”

Could the Trump women, with their penchant for European labels and statement clothing, change the shopping habits of the capital?

“From what I saw, they all care about fashion,” said Nancy Pearlstein, the owner of Relish, a Washington fashion boutique, referring to the inaugural choices. “There’s a taste level there and a want to look good, to be fashionable.” She expressed hope that Melania, Ivanka and Tiffany Trump will, like Michelle Obama, influence Washingtonians to experiment with clothes.

Catherine Bennett, the senior vice president and managing director of IMG fashion, which operates fashion weeks around the world, was born and raised in Washington. She similarly noted that the family in the White House often affected the culture of the capital.

“The flavor of the city changes with each administration,” Bennett said. “There was nothing happening in the fashion and style space until Michelle Obama got there. She sort of made it acceptable for people in politics to talk about fashion and to be interested in it. I hope that trend continues.”

If it does, the best place for many to shop will be CityCenterDC, a more central and accessible alternative to the places Washingtonians have traditionally gone for luxury options: Chevy Chase, a sleepy neighborhood in Northwest Washington, or Tysons Corner Center in the Virginia suburbs, about 17 miles from Union Station.

It has not escaped store owners that the Trump administration is brimming with wealth. According to Bloomberg’s estimates (based on public disclosures and market performance), the combined net worth of Trump’s Cabinet is $6.1 billion, with two of his appointees — Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. and Linda E. McMahon, who runs the Small Business Administration — worth a combined $4.1 billion.

Then there is the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, worth $890 million; the Treasury secretary, Steven T. Mnuchin, who rings in at $621 million; Elaine L. Chao, the transportation secretary, whose assets add up to $25.6 million; and the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil chief executive who is worth $385 million.

“You can fly your wealthy flag for the time being,” said Julie Khuzami, a former New Yorker who has lived in Washington since 2009, noting that previously the standard Washington style of dress leaned toward safe and homogeneous. “I think people are going to be a lot flashier. And I think CityCenter can cater to a segment that thinks it’s now OK to be a little bit flashier.”

The moneyed gleam of the Trump administration seems to be attracting the eye of businesses across the country, with corporations like Boeing, Chevron and others donating a combined $90 million, nearly double the record, for Trump’s inaugural celebrations. Companies like Amazon, General Motors and Wal-Mart have courted the administration with visits and announcements about hiring and investing in the United States.

Developers are hoping that representatives from businesses like these will carve time out of their trips to Washington to stop at CityCenterDC, which is within a 15-block radius of at least 17,000 hotel rooms as well as attractions like the National Gallery of Art, the White House and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

“A lot of people come to Washington to do business with the government,” said Howard Riker, a managing director at Hines, the developer of CityCenterDC. “We have taken advantage of that. I think we’ll see more and more of that with the new administration, which has a pretty ambitious agenda, so I think there will be people coming into town to participate.”

If CityCenterDC does live up to its name, it will be reviving fashion in an area that was once known for stores like Woodward & Lothrop, one of the first department stores in Washington, and Garfinckel’s, which was frequented by the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson over its 80 years in business. And it will happen just after the closing of a landmark Washington-area store: Saks Jandel, which, over the course of more than a century catered to Nancy Reagan, Condoleezza Rice and Elizabeth Taylor.

Bennett thinks it is entirely possible CityCenterDC will have its moment. 

“A lot of people, whether they’re supportive of the Trump administration or not, are getting engaged in life in Washington in a way they haven’t before,” she said. “There’s more activity, which will improve the economy, which hopefully will trickle into the fashion and retail space.”

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