The mall may be dying in cities across America, but in Pittsburgh it’s alive and well: early in 2023, Gucci caused a ruckus by opening its newest boutique in the city’s Ross Park Mall. The brand joined Louis Vuitton and Burberry—two other grande dames of luxury fashion—as well as fine jewelry powerhouse Tiffany & Co. But just across the Allegheny River, in the city’s enterprising East Liberty neighborhood, Tons is ushering in a distinctly indie approach by bringing the likes of Coperni, Marni, Marine Serre, and more to the city’s denizens.
Even to those familiar with Pittsburgh’s tech and design-driven turnaround, news of ritzy fashion labels setting up shop in the former Rust Belt raises eyebrows. In the wake of the region’s post-industrial decline, Microsoft and Google have flocked to the city while the holdings of former steel magnates have been enshrined in museums and landmarks.
America’s second and third cities represent a significant opportunity to meet aspirational and high-value clients where they’re at geographically. It’s no longer necessary to live in (or even visit) New York, L.A., or Miami for choice pickings of designer goods—a truth acknowledged at the highest levels of industry. “The growth in cities like Nashville or Charlotte, it’s structural,” François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Gucci parent company Kering, recently said. “It’s not going to disappear.”
Judging by Gucci’s scarcely eight-week-old outpost in the City of Bridges, Pittsburgh’s potential has not gone unnoticed by Kering—or others. Back in East Liberty, a mix of local musicians, gallerists, students, tech workers, and NFL players and their significant others make up the mix of high-low spenders that Tons founder Diana Kucenic and head of buying Lisa Kologreeva have become acquainted with in the lead-up to the grand opening.
At Tons, which was designed by NWDS, a shopper could spend as little as $15 on Aesop hand sanitizer or well into the five figures on a single head-to-toe look. “We’re trying to tailor the store to a diverse audience,” Kologreeva says. In addition to attainable beauty purchases, cotton tees, totes, and hats from lifestyle brand Sporty & Rich, and Vetements underthings allow the shop to make inroads with clients for whom $500 Margiela Tabi sneakers are out of reach.
“New York and L.A. stores can do great pop-ups with all the major brands and bring all the celebrities, but in smaller cities, you have to surround yourself with all people who might be interested in the fashion, in shopping,” Kologreeva says. With her credentials as a former stylist and fashion editor, and Kucenic’s years spent as a fashion buyer, the duo are poised to offer high spenders an experience unlike anywhere else in Pittsburgh. The duo keep Veuve Clicquot on hand for shoppers who prefer to take in the season’s newest ready-to-wear over bubbles, and place custom orders from the Paris fashion houses upon request.
As excited as Tons’ clients are to interface with the store and its brands, the fashion houses working with the retailer are just as excited to have a presence in the city. “If you talk about Pittsburgh, specifically, I would say 90 percent of the designers [we carry] are not represented by any other store,” Kologreeva says. “Many brands were excited about Tons because they’re never going to bring the brand here.”