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Express will unveil a Japanese-designed store prototype next month with industrial fixtures, a larger footprint, a dual gender “denim lab” and a runway down the center to merchandise key products.

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The best of what we know and have learned over many years has been put into this new store design concept,” said Michael Weiss, president and chief executive officer of the 600-unit chain, who described the prototype as “modern, sophisticated and engaging.…We look forward to measuring the impact it has on our business in two markets.”

The prototypes are 13,000 square feet, with 10,500 for selling. They will make their debut at the King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pa., and Kenwood Towne Center in Cincinnati. Express stores average 8,500 square feet and are primarily in malls, though there is a vision toward a greater street presence, including Manhattan, where Express operates only six stores. The idea is to take elements of the prototype and apply them to new and existing stores, rather than rolling out the entire prototype itself.

The design was created by Masamichi Katayama, interior designer, founder and principal of Wonderwall, a Japanese design firm. “I envisioned a three-dimensional fashion magazine, a source for the new and for the must-haves,” said Katayama.

The prototype is divided into three sections: men’s, women’s, and the denim lab, which has an oak ceiling and suspended trellis in aged timber, polished concrete flooring and outrigger mounted wooden shelves framed by black velvet curtains.

Mortar walls and concrete floors create an open, expansive space, which is accented with aged oak floors. Glossy white walls divide the space into rooms and contrast the natural wood perimeter shelving system. There are also recessed stainless steel troffers, circular stages for displaying product, hanging sculptural elements, interactive touch-screen computers, and live-streaming of Express fashion shows. A two-tiered black wood display forms a raised “runway” down the middle of the store. Fixturing is flexible so the store can give more space to hot-selling categories and items, and less space for weaker merchandise.

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