Palisadian Heather Vandenberghe Led Westfield Century City Reopening

By Lila Seidman
Staff Writer

After 15 years of working with fashion moguls in New York, native Palisadian Heather Vandenberghe said she was “desperate to come home.”

When a recruiter from the shopping center company Westfield called her up, “I thought that was kind of the most perfect intersection of all the things I was looking for,” she said.

With offices based in Century City, Vandenberghe (née Acheson) could give her kids the “Norman Rockwell upbringing” she experienced, while working in a fashion-adjacent field where her knowledge could be seamlessly applied.

In February of last year, Vandenberghe joined the company as chief marketing officer and moved with her two daughters, Lila and Elle, to Marquez Knolls—just a stone’s throw from the hills she grew up in.

Heather Vandenberghe

On October 3, she oversaw the grand reopening of the Century City mall, the first mall she ever went to.

“It has a special place in my heart,” said Vandenberghe, who previously held executive marketing positions at Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger and bebe.

Designed with locals in mind, she hopes that Palisadians will take advantage of the revamped mall’s offerings, which now includes the West Coast’s first Eataly; a three-level Nordstrom and an Equinox fitness club, in addition to hundreds of other shops, restaurants and entertainment options.

“I know [Rick] Caruso wants to bring it here, but that’s a year away,” she said, referring to the Palisades Village. “Right now, for someone in the Palisades to say I’m going to go have dinner and a movie, and maybe I’ll do some shopping, have some gelato and walk around under the stars—now we have the town center to do it.”

In her new role, Vandenberghe oversees everything that touches the U.S. brand and 33 Westfield shopping centers in the nation, including advertising, marketing, public relations and communications. (She emphasized international marketing while pursuing a master’s in international policy studies at Stanford. She attended UC Santa Barbara for undergraduate studies.)

“Each property had its own personality,” she explained, pointing to the distinct Westfield malls in Topanga and Culver City. It’s her job to craft and communicate the narrative for each space.

According to Vandenberghe, shopping competition has largely evolved from other malls, to “my sofa and laptop and pajamas.”

To combat shopper inertia, Vandenberghe’s integrating more experiential factors into Westfield properties, which can’t be replicated in the virtual world. The Century City mall is now home to a pop-up shop rotating on a six-week basis, giving it a limited-time-only appeal.

Pivoting away from fashion has been a welcome change, Vandenberghe said. Unlike fashion, which only looks one season ahead, real estate plans for the Big Picture, five to 10 or more years out.

“There’s a sense of being very grounded,” she said.

And yet, she explained, the mall environment is often more light-hearted than the fashion world. At the first property she launched under her tenure, at the World Trade Center in New York, a man wanted to propose to his girlfriend in the mall, and requested all the screens around him flash the question, “Will you marry me?”

“There’s fun stuff like that, that adds a whimsy to what we do,” she said. “Fashion people, sometimes they take it very seriously, and it’s not supposed to be serious. It’s supposed to be fun.”

Vandenberghe isn’t the only one who’s happy with her career choice. She said her children were the ones who, after visiting their grandparents in the Palisades, asked her why they couldn’t live there permanently.

Vandenberghe’s father, Richard Acheson, lives in the Riviera. Her mother, Nancy Acheson Smith, lives in the Palisades Highlands. The children’s request inspired Vandenberghe to seek out West Coast opportunities.

Elle, 11, now attends Marquez Charter Elementary School. Lila, 13, attends Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles.

The Palisades still has the old fashioned, small town charm Vandenberghe remembers from her childhood. When she moved into her new home, three people stopped by with flowers and baked goods—a foreign concept in New York City.

“The fact that I’m back here 30 years later, and the quality of life and the spirit of the town still exists, is really special,” she said.

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