Byline: Holly Haber

It’s all about artistic presentation at the new Neiman Marcus store that opened in Plano, Tex., the first week of August at The Shops at Willow Bend.
The 151,000-square-foot unit is loaded with an eclectic assortment of fixtures for shoppers to view, not buy: artisan furnishings, colorful custom wool area rugs and about 25 pieces of art that were commissioned by Neiman’s for specific locations throughout the store.
“We really focused on artisan-type enhancements, be they furniture, carpets,” said Ignaz Gorischek, vice president of visual planning and presentation for the Dallas-based retailer. “We’re trying to reinforce our exclusive or limited-distribution products and the handmade quality in clothing and decorative home.
He added, “We have hand-carved wooden benches from Hawaii, and we had Milanese pottery artists design the shelf trim throughout the store. We were looking for things that are very tactile and timeless in design to live from season to season.”
About a third of the furnishings in the store were custom designed and are exclusive to Neiman’s. Because of customers’ fascination with the home department’s custom-made tables and chairs, Neiman’s is looking into producing and selling the items itself, even though the retailer isn’t in the furniture business.
One of the department’s most popular items is a glass-topped table with a cast bronze base resembling three tribal figures by jeweler Jean Mahie.
There are also some high tech elements, like sleek brushed-steel stands topped by video screens installed near 10 of the pieces of art. Visitors may touch the screens to learn about the artwork in front of them, to see images of art at other Neiman’s stores or to hear an interview with chairman emeritus Stanley Marcus about why he started buying art to display in the stores.
“We tried to put in a lot of visual enhancements to appeal to the customer and educate and entertain them,” Gorischek said. “The idea is that you leave fulfilled, and that doesn’t always mean with a Neiman’s shopping bag. But you will come back because you think about it as a pleasant experience.”
Other unusual video fixtures are oval countertop mirrors inset with three-by-four-inch screens that play promotional videos about cosmetics or accessories vendors.
“The cosmetics people for years have asked to show videos on the counters, and the solution has been a VCR and TV at the counter,” Gorischek said. “There’s no room on those counters anyway. I came up with the idea of a mirror, which is already on the top of the counter, that doubles as a video source.”
The store is dabbling with the idea of installing cameras inside the mirrors, transforming them into interactive screens that could be used for virtual personal appearances by makeup artists.
Vendors buy the mirrors from Neiman’s for $2,000 each and create their own programming. Neiman’s has a patent pending on the mirrors and has no intention of sharing them with other retailers.
“We can’t sell our differentiators,” said Gorischek. “We work too hard to invent these things.”
Another new element is a permanent performance counter for cosmetics events that occupies 560 square feet in the beauty department. Scheduled to feature a different vendor every few days, the station can simultaneously seat about 16 to 18 customers for beauty consultations.
“It’s an extravagant use of space that allows us to service the customer better at the counter because there won’t be as much congestion,” said Ken Downing, vice president of special events and corporate public relations for Neiman’s. “And for the person who is getting a makeover, there won’t be transactions going on around them. It will create a more branded experience.”
Another key visual element that distinguishes Neiman’s from its competitors is the strategic placement of art inside and outside its stores. This reaches a new height at Willow Bend, where all the art is by Texas artists and some of the sculptures bear themes that correspond to their surroundings.
In women’s shoes, for instance, a coral reed and steel sculpture by Frances Bagley resembles a seated dress form. An anchor of the men’s furnishings area is a globe of interconnected bronze shirt collars by Joseph Havell.
On the second floor, where all women’s clothing is displayed, a granite circle sculpture by Jesus Moroles frames a view of the Chanel boutique on the other side of the escalator bank.
“A great deal of thought was given to introducing this wonderful collection of fine art in strategic locations, like end-of-aisle focal points,” explained Charles Sparks, principal of Westchester, Ill.-based Charles Sparks + Co. and chief interior designer of the store.
The Willow Bend store also boasts some unique boutiques, including the only Celine and Dolce & Gabbana shops in Dallas and the first Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique in the U.S. styled under the guidance of YSL designer Tom Ford.
Neiman’s also has boutiques for Armani Collezioni, Chanel, Piazza Sempione and Prada cosmetics plus accessories shops for Gucci, Tod’s, Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Ferragamo.
The YSL boutique is a moody, bar-like room reminiscent of the YSL shops of the Seventies where almost every surface and furnishing is black, save for some gray glass and chrome trim. Its black box appearance stands in dramatic contrast to the rest of the store, which is brilliantly lit and full of contrasting textures, including pale stone, light woods, mother of pearl, translucent glass and cream and taupe marble. A vast skylight over the elevator bank showers natural light onto the third floor.
“The essence is casual — not hard-edged,” said Sparks. “It’s not meant to be super-modern or cold. It looks much farther down the road to a cleaner, simpler sense of style and look. Neiman’s has a gracious point of view toward space, allowing a customer to see things better than in the cluttered, crowded stores of today. It trades things up.”
The interior of Willow Bend will influence the interior of other Neiman Marcus units, said Sparks, who is working on the Neiman’s slated to open next year in Coral Gables, Fla., plus a remodel and expansion of the Fashion Island store in Newport Beach, Calif.
Gorischek said the retailer’s latest approach to its in-store design is intended to portray Neiman’s as distinctive and elegant.
He said: “The art, the interactive art stands and exclusive furniture are creating a whole line of differentiators for Neiman Marcus so that when a customer walks in our store, they can never confuse us with anyone else.”

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