A tale of two wallets

At the new Neiman Marcus outlet, designer looks can adapt to your budget


For the fashionista on a budget, a Neiman Marcus outlet is the equivalent of a fat-free, sugar-free brownie.

No, it's not quite the same as the real thing, but it's pretty good. In fact, if you dress it up right, you might not be able to tell the difference.

That's the feeling you get inside the new Neiman's Last Call Clearance Center, which opened last month at Arundel Mills in Hanover. It's one of 16 Last Call centers around the country and the first in Maryland.

Maybe you'll miss the marble floors and the elegant chandeliers that help make the region's full-line Neiman's department stores -- at Tysons Corner and Mazza Gallerie -- so swankily shrine-like.

Perhaps you'll long for the lounge details the Mazza store has, or the heady scent of Chanel No. 5 hanging in the air.

But here's one thing you won't miss: fashion-forward, fine-quality clothes, shoes and accessories from such big names as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Diane Von Furstenberg, Armani, Manolo Blahnik, Christian Dior, David Yurman, Burberry.

And here's another thing you won't miss: Neiman Marcus prices.

"I shop here because of the opportunity to get some of the designer clothing for less," says Tammy McKnight, 42, a stay-at-home mother from Mitchellville who loves to splurge on fashion-forward clothing. Her outfit on this day: Seven jeans, Louis Vuitton bag, and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses.

"I came here on the first day it opened and I got a black leather Chanel bag for $300. That was crazy! Chanel bags are never discounted." That's because these are last year's offerings -- items from spring '05 that didn't sell in the main stores, but carried over well trend-wise to this season.

$500 challenge

Consider: This spring, slender jeans and a cute eyelet top would make a stylish and on-trend outfit for a woman of any shape or age.

At a Neiman Marcus full-line department store, a Nanette Lepore eyelet top and a pair of jeans would cost $425. Add a pair of shoes or a handbag or piece of jewelry, and that $500 you planned to spend is but a distant memory.

At the Last Call, with surprisingly little effort, we styled a Neiman's model in head-to-toe designer labels and of-the-moment looks for just about that same price.

Here's what we found (pictured, above left):

A Marc Jacobs white-and-cornflower-blue, military-style jacket with matte silver buttons for $125 (original price: $358).

A Juicy Couture white eyelet baby doll top: $38 (was $110).

A pair of Seven for All Mankind slim-cut jeans: $45 (was $130).

Nude-and-orange sandals by Italian designer Materia Prima: $78 (was $225).

An orange Adrienne Vittadini oversized soft leather handbag with whipstitch detail: $105 (was $158).

An orange jeweled bangle: $66 (was $190).

Total price: $457.

But how about $100?

It took a little more time, but we also put together two outfits for $100 each: Skinny trouser-style James jeans and a pink camisole, plus a cute beach-perfect straw bag for $99. And (pictured, above right) a beautiful pair of white Seven jeans and a pink Juicy Couture top (and the same straw bag) for $98.

If you wanted shoes, you'd have to come up with at least $100 more, but you get the picture.

Unlike the three-level full-line stores, the 25,000-square-foot Last Call outlet is set up on just one airy floor, in a big compartmentalized circle. Take a walk around the circle and hit bargains at every turn.

Among the opening week's merchandise: A Gucci logo handbag marked down from $760 to $266. A Vivienne Tam blouse reduced from $285 to $99. Prada shoes slashed from $630 to $220. Lacoste fitted polos that were once $72, on sale for $25. An Armani lambskin jacket -- that sold once for $3,995 -- going for nearly $3,000 less. A $228 eyelet skirt by Seventh-Avenue darling Marc Jacobs hanging on a rack for $79.

Marc Jacobs for less than $100? This, folks, is unheard of.

"I keep marking it down until it sells," says Gayle Tremblay, vice president of Neiman's clearance division.

That is enough for most mainstream shoppers to say they'll do without three levels, chandeliers and gleaming marble floors.



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