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.

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