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Wooing The Connoisseur

Someday, Neiman Marcus may rely on LCD screens as much as it does lush floral displays to set the mood for its stores.<br><br>To best showcase its mix of luxury goods, the 34-unit Neiman’s incorporates everything from orchids to video technology...

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The Neiman Marcus art collection was started in 1951 when Stanley Marcus commissioned artist Alexander Calder to create a mobile for the company’s first store.

WWD Staff

Someday, Neiman Marcus may rely on LCD screens as much as it does lush floral displays to set the mood for its stores.

To best showcase its mix of luxury goods, the 34-unit Neiman’s incorporates everything from orchids to video technology so new it’s not even patented yet.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, a spectrum of artwork and sophisticated and sometimes whimsical home furnishings have become integral parts of Neiman’s displays and harmonize with its sophisticated merchandise mix.

But adding a futuristic flair to the store’s well-heeled ambience is a chain-wide initiative to merge state-of-the-art technology into Neiman’s fashion merchandising and cus-tomer service programs, including video mirrors, three-dimensional display cases and computer kiosks that educate shoppers on a store’s art collection.

“Our design and display philosophy starts with putting the product first,’’ said Ignaz Gorischek, vice president of corporate visual design at Neiman’s.

“We use lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers and what is available in a particular market-place, such as tropical flowers or succulents in Florida. It’s all part of our natural, indigenous approach to design. Our displays are also designed to complement each store’s extensive collection of artwork.’’

Using organic products in displays also conveys a sense of immediacy and sends a clear message that stores and the displays are tended to on a

daily basis, just as a customer would tend a home garden or floral arrangement.

“Each Neiman’s store employs up to eight stylists,” said Gorischek. “We constantly educate them on the latest fashion, home and cultural trends.’’

Neiman’s store-design evolution could perhaps now be described as more Wired than Better Homes and Gardens, incorporating a cadre of patent-pending innovations such as mirrors with imbedded video screens that play fashion clips and interactive 3-D display cases.

The store has turned to new technology to educate shoppers on trends and product launches.

“We use the video monitors to show infomercials, product videos from a vendor or educational or styling information in the beauty, accessories or fine jewelry departments,” said Gorischek. “It makes the customer ask questions and try something new.’’

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At its new Coral Gables, Fla., store, which opened Sept. 27, Neiman’s unveiled a patent-pending video display case, or “video vitrine,” in the accessories department.

“We’re using new technology that allows us to project flat-screen images against actual merchandise,” said Gorischek. The first such vitrine, he said, is called Ring of Fire, which shows handblown Venetian glass emerging from a circle of flames.

“The video vitrines will also be used to connote the organic beginnings of a product,’’ noted Gorischek, adding that the videos already are being rolled out to a number of other Neiman’s units, including North Park Center in Dallas.

In the future, he said, video vitrines have the potential to be used in shoe departments, men’s wear and furnishings departments in various Neiman’s stores.

High tech art kiosks are located near each piece of artwork and include an educational video about the art and its creator. Each video kiosk also includes a vintage three-minute video presentation by Stanley Marcus on the importance of art.

Neiman’s in-store art collection rivals that of some small museums and includes over 6,000 pieces of art, including works by Picasso, Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet and Frank Stella. Security is elaborate but highly discreet, with video cameras and sensors scattered liberally throughout the stores.

The architecture and art reflect the community, with usually about 100 to 200 pieces of art displayed per store, and commissioned or found expressly for the location from local artists. “We treat the artists with as much dignity and respect as any gallery,” said Gorischek. “They don’t feel exploited. We don’t put a lot of regulations or stipulations on them, only size.”

Stores are planned with walls and floor space specifically to hang art and display sculpture, which is never for sale.

Neiman’s stores are also marked by unusual visual displays, such as whimsical headless mannequins manufactured by Ralph Pucci International, or, in place of the usual T-stands for housing jewelry, wooden totem poles by artist Frank Virelli.

The Neiman Marcus art collection was started in 1951 when Stanley Marcus commissioned then-unheard-of artist Alexander Calder to create a mobile for the opening of the company’s first branch store on Preston Road in Dallas.

The mobile, which stretches 11 feet, is one of Calder’s largest creations and now resides in the Beverly Hills store.

“Each store is almost like a museum,’’ said Gorischek. “Art plays such a vital role in the store design process. We believe it’s yet another way of educating the consumer by means other than the merchandise. Art is a true differentiator at Neiman Marcus, especially since we’re dealing with such a well-educated customer.

“Many of our customers also collect art privately, and they appreciate seeing art throughout our stores,” he added. “Often they want to know more about an artist and may wind up buying a piece from that artist, based on having seen them first at Neiman Marcus.’’

A cadre of commissioned architects, an in-house art curator and staff stylists, floral designers and merchandisers work up to two years in advance of a Neiman’s store debut orchestrating construction.

While aesthetics are customized by size, the Neiman’s stamp — a clean, grid-like presentation, with wide vistas and wide aisles from eight to 11 1/2 feet, marble floors, and an aura of elegance — is always there.

“We try to make our stores, both from the exterior and interior viewpoints, as indigenous as possible and to use elements in the construction that are native to the locale of the store,’’ said Wayne Hussey, senior vice president for property and new-store development.

The Neiman’s store at The Shops at Willow Bend in Plano, Tex., which opened in 2001, echoes its location on a windy plateau in north Texas with a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design, featuring a limestone and rich wood-accented exterior, skylights and clean, geometric lines.

Meanwhile, Neiman’s two new Florida locales, the Orlando door that’s set to open Oct. 17 and Coral Gables, reflect their cities’ cultural roots and physical setting.

For example, the Mediterranean and Spanish facade at Coral Gables is a rich mix of marble, stone, wood and warm earth tones.

“As our style evolves, we’re adding more natural light, more glass and more of an open floor plan than in our earlier designs,” said Hussey.

Neiman’s floor plans now follow a modified racetrack path, reflecting a progressive move away from the old-style contiguous departments that prevailed at Neiman’s for many years.

“We believe in wide aisles, easy circulation and clear vistas,’’ said Hussey. “No matter where you stand on any floor, you’ll have open sightlines across the entire floor. It’s an approach that makes it easier to shop and to spotlight fashion.’’

Neiman’s illuminates its stores with crisp and vibrant but never harsh light that flatters both shoppers and the merchandise.

“We’re strategically using natural light, including windows and skylights, more than ever before. It gives a crisp and fresh feeling to the sales floor, including the visual displays,’’ said Hussey. “You won’t find flashing neon signs at Neiman Marcus.’’

Store design and marketing consultants praised Neiman’s organic and intellectual approach to design and architecture.

“Their approach makes a lot of sense,’’ said Paco Underhill, managing director at Envirosell, a New York-based behavioral marketing and research firm. “Neiman Marcus distinguishes itself from the rest of the retail competitors with its design and architecture.’’

Underhill credited Neiman’s for its regional design, adding, “Neiman’s reacts to the turf that it is fighting on. The chain’s core identity is strong enough that it gives each store the room to have a local flavor.’’

Neiman’s high tech merchandising approach provides a better alternative to mere paper signage, said Underhill.

“Neiman’s is leading the way to a new age of interacting with customers. The days of signage being dominated by paper are coming to a close. The chain’s communication vehicles, such as the video mirrors or three-dimensional vitrines, are very dynamic. And they can customize these and other technological innovations to appeal to specific groups of customers, making them invaluable marketing tools.’’

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