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45 and Fabulous!by Wendy Bowman-Littler | Riviera Orange County magazine | July 30, 2012
The year was 1967, and Fashion Island (shopfashionisland.com), the nation’s first regional outdoor luxury shopping center, had opened in Newport on a 70-acre patch of the vast land that was Irvine Ranch. Today, more than 13 million shoppers walk where herds of bison once roamed and 50,000 gathered for the National Boy Scout Jamboree in 1953. It’s become the shopping mecca for O.C.’s chic and stylish, with a ZIP code in one of SoCal’s toniest neighborhoods. It boasts a resident list that includes names like Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. That’s why retailers like C. Wonder and Ella Moss chose to open their first West Coast outposts here. Well-heeled locals and visitors stroll the Mediterranean-style promenades to check out the latest from Elie Tahari, browse the bling at Traditional Jewelers, grab a bite at Canaletto or sit beside the 20,000-gallon koi pond—with palm trees and the sparkling Pacific as the backdrop. You’d hardly recognize it from its early days, when JC Penney stood as an anchor. Says Dan Sheridan, president of Irvine Co. Retail Properties, which owns the center: “Our ultimate goal is to provide an unmatched guest experience at Fashion Island, from shopping and dining to the resort-like outdoor setting, and the services and amenities we provide.”
To mark its debut on Sept. 9, the 909,000-square-foot Fashion Island celebrated in true Newport Beach style—with a black-tie gala that Time magazine tagged as “the largest cocktail party in the world.” Initially home to 50 specialty shops, two restaurants and four department stores, Fashion Island (a name that reflects its circular design plan) continued to grow and change with the times. It welcomed O.C.’s only Neiman Marcus in 1978 and added 70,000 square feet of retail space—room for 60 new shops, more restaurants and a seven-screen Edwards Cinema—in 1989. Bloomingdale’s moved to the island in 1996, and its home store followed a year later. By 2002, the center had grown by an additional 35,000 square feet, and three years later, Neiman Marcus expanded by another 33,000. (Say hello to Mariposa resto and bar). In 2009, the center broke ground on its most significant makeover since 1989—a $100 million transformation. The final phase, unveiled late last year, brings more exclusive stores and the opening of a remodeled cinema. The surrounding area has taken shape right along with Fashion Island. Posh office developments, swanky hotels and haute neighborhoods now encircle what has become one of the most unique open-air shopping and dining destinations in the country.
Today, Fashion Island ranks as one of SoCal’s largest retail destinations and is recognized for offering an upscale outdoor shopping experience that far exceeds that of L.A.’s Melrose Avenue or New York’s Soho. And the 1.5-million-square-foot destination is clearing the way for an additional 22,000 square feet of retail space—necessary to accommodate even more exclusive new stores and eateries. If you haven’t been here in a while, you might be surprised to see a new 140,000-square-foot Nordstrom, along with retailers like Roberta Roller Rabbit and Vineyard Vines, restaurants such as True Food Kitchen and the region’s largest Apple store. It now boasts an updated outdoor design, including features like a dramatic 24-foot water wall in the Atrium Court Garden and a fountain with a 45-foot-tall granite obelisk inspired by the Fountain of Four Rivers in Rome’s Piazza Navona. You’ll find alfresco dining areas and special touches, like the 16 bronze sculptures of Garibaldi damselfish “swimming” in sea grass adjacent to Atrium Park. And the coming years will continue to see even more enhancements, as Fashion Island continues to draw retailers like natural grocer Whole Foods this fall and acclaimed eatery Fig & Olive next summer. It just keeps getting better with age.