By  on September 26, 2005

NEW YORK — A fireplace in an Anthropologie store in Connecticut, Forth & Towne's upscale fitting rooms, a Burberry store with Beefeater forms, newly renovated Bergdorf Goodman's more residential environs and even the hair salon for dolls at American Girl Place all qualify as retail experiences, according to panelists at a Fashion Group International-sponsored event on store design.

The panel included Kenne Shepherd, founder and principal of Kenne Shepherd Interior Design and Architecture PLLC; Ron Pompei, founder of the retail design firm Pompei AD; Randy Ridless, the creative force behind the design firm of the same name, and Nancye Green, co-founder of Donovan/Green.

"What we're trying to do is create a culture that appreciates experience. It's an experience economy," Pompei said at the Thursday night discussion. "We want a little bit of an 'aha'" effect — something that could have a transformation effect on commerce, culture and community."

In her presentation, Green mentioned how a riverboat that stopped in various American ports to take passengers on three-hour journeys was the first design proposal for American Girl Place, but conditions at the docks in those cities were deemed unsuitable for 10-year-old girls. Once the plan switched to a 33,000-square-foot store with a restaurant and theater, the feel of the space took another route. While some areas of the store were inspired in part by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's French rooms, Green allowed, "The idea was that every little girl would want everything."

When that happens, there are plenty of chairs in the store for daughters and mothers to negotiate their purchases. There are also "passports" for young shoppers to keep track of what they have and what they want. Sales associates "never sell," Green said. "They say, 'Tell me about your doll and your life.'"

The Gap's latest retail concept, Forth & Towne, aims to engage Baby Boomers seeking a more lasting experience, even if that occurs in an overdone, semicommunal fitting room that is "a gathering place like a social setting," Shepherd said. And in that gathering place, they will find accessories on a table in the area's common space for further bonding. As a nod to individuality, each fitting room is decorated differently with three-way mirrors and adjustable lighting.Pompei noted that Anthropologie's stores are tailored to blend into their respective cities. "Just as you wouldn't wear the same outfit in Seattle that you would in South Beach," he said.

"So many people think customers don't have the ability to appreciate a complex space. Everyone is so paranoid that people will only think about the product if it is put in front of their face. We have to allow them to think in a retail environment."

As for Burberry, Ridless said the company's chief executive officer Rose Marie Bravo had a clear vision for the redesign of its Bond Street flagship in London. He said she told him, "Don't give me a white box store that is clean and cool. But don't give me Ye Olde England with trunks and trophies, either."

What she wanted was something with a more residential feel, Ridless said. Bergdorf Goodman also hired his company to free the brand from its environs. While the new look isn't reminiscent of the days when the Goodman family lived above their store, it does have more of an elegant residential feel, he said.

Ridless and Bergdorf's vice president of visual merchandising, Linda Fargo, were inspired by a trip to the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue here, where the classical architecture is painted white. Adding a series of rooms with higher ceilings, parquet floors, silver-plated lamps and classical porcelains made Bergdorf's more inviting for shoppers, he said.

A common thread acknowledged by the speakers was stated by Pompei as "the movement toward intimacy." In an unexpected comparison, he said retailers are designing a series of rooms that shoppers will have different experiences in. "Just as women would have all different bras."

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