DOORS OF PERCEPTION
STORES AS FASHION — APPAREL DESIGNERS ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES WATCHING FOR WHAT’S IN VOGUE.
Byline: Cami Alexander
The old saying “Everything old is new again” could just as easily be applied to trends in store design as it can to the current craze for Eighties chain belts, Seventies tie-dye and peasant styles and Forties suits.
That and other pearls of retail wisdom were unearthed in an unscientific, but nonetheless revealing survey of retail design consultants and specialty store owners. Here, WWD assembles a list of what’s hot and what’s not right now in apparel store design.
“What’s in is what’s old,” said Carl Youngberg, president of C3 Inc., a Dallas-based retail consulting firm.
“Just as we’re looking for the retro look in home design and clothing and other parts of our lives, we’re also looking for it in the retail experience as well.
“Even if they’re too young to have grown up in [an earlier] period, people would like to experience it. Those people buying lava lamps are interested in what went on before.”
A prime example is what’s happening currently in the arena of color, in which popular colors of the past are reemerging in updated versions, according to Robert Coker, Associate Principal at Robert Young Associates (RYA), a big retail store design firm based in Dallas.
“We’ve seen your mother’s harvest gold come back in, or maybe your grandmother’s avocado green,” said Coker, “but they’re not as vibrant as when first introduced. They’re softer, but they still have that ‘I remember’ quality to it. They’re old colors with a new look or twist to them.”
Youngberg agreed. “There are more Fifties looks — chrome, bright colors and designs. There was a terrific explosion of design in this country in the Fifties, and we’re seeing more of those looks and colors coming in,” he said. “So what you thought was going to be out of style 10 years ago is actually coming back. We don’t throw away anything! What was in 10 to 20 years ago is now showing its face again.”
“We’ve got a linoleum floor,” confided Bill Mackin, of his miniature department store, Forty Five Ten, which opened last April on McKinney Avenue in Dallas. “That’s hardly used anymore.”
HOT: Comfort, Coziness and Amenities
“It’s important for customers to feel comfortable,” stated Mackin. “I wanted Forty Five Ten to be comfortable and open.”
Forty Five Ten has a tea room, called the T Room, which has become a neighborhood meeting place, he added.
“We’re becoming more and more challenged to design amenities,” said store consultant Coker, “like luxurious restrooms, personal shopper facilities, fitting rooms with seating areas, seating areas at cash wraps, concierge desks and beverage service areas.” Youngberg’s design consulting firm is being called on to “go to polar extremes — high concept design with a lot of simplicity and store environments that are a bit more cozy.”
Lighting plays an important role in the comfort factor, and a warm focus on the product is current.
Bill Dodson, president of Lilly Dodson and manager of the adjacent Escada shop in Dallas, remarked, “The trend now, if there is a consistency, would be that more light is directed on the clothing and less on the floor itself.
“When we built the first Escada shop, the idea was to get the shop as bright as we could. The [lighting in the] latest round of Escada shops and Lilly Dodson is more toned down and more comfortable. It creates a more comfortable environment.”
This discipline also requires that lighting not adhere to consistency throughout the store, but change to suit different needs.
“We have to ‘punch’ the lighting or create hot spots for visual moments, especially elements like showcase lines or things that you want the customer to really look at and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over,” said Coker. “And then we’ll lower lighting levels in customer service areas to bring about a more soothing atmosphere. We’ll change lamp lights from fluorescent to incandescent to warm up areas and bring lighting levels down.”
Customers also feel more comfortable when they can find their way around without requiring assistance from the sales staff.
“We’re seeing signage become clearer for customers — we’re seeing it be simpler and more direct,” said Youngberg. “People, when they come in, want to know where they can go to get what they need.”
HOT: A Personal Statement
“So many stores are the same,” asserted Mackin of Forty Five Ten. “There used to be something that made them different.”
The design of Forty Five Ten, with its array of boutique-like areas, is intended to convey what Mackin hopes is the development’s unique underlying concept.
“We can’t be all things to all people. Store design helps define your point of view, not just the merchandise. Customers like to go to a store that has a point of view,” he noted.
Coker explained that retailers look to the store designer to create a new merchandising concept and plan, but also to make a statement. “That doesn’t just mean architecture, but an environment that really takes into account all of their merchandise — their whole exposure.”
Music, graphics and visual technology are important ways to customize a store’s point of view.
“Retailers want to customize music for their stores, their customers,” says Coker. “Flat screen TVs create a very big visual impact for the young shopper or for the older, more sophisticated shopper. And graphics are entailing not just merchandise, but lifestyle imagery — again, to create an atmosphere for a particular merchandise, like a tech store or a Fossil store.”
Another new design technique that helps define point of view is the assembly of distinct room environments — stores within stores — so that each subcategory has its own unique design.
The Beretta store in Dallas features differences in design between departments, even though it feels and flows as a concept, noted Coker.
“Sometimes this room design may be just creating an entrance portal or a foyer before they go into the main space, creating transitions between departments.”
COLD: Inaccessible Merchandise
“The concept of merchandise locked in cases is definitely going out,” said Youngberg of C3.
“The first place where we saw the opening up of a category of merchandise was in cosmetics. For most of recent history, everything we’ve seen in cosmetics has been salesperson-provided. Now we see self-serve boutiques, even in the higher end of cosmetics.
“Another example of an area that’s been slow to change has been in accessories. For most retailers, watches and other accessories have been locked up. What we’re seeing now is a movement to open that up. The inventory is still kept in locked cases, but what we’re seeing is the concept of “testers” for watches, units connected to the cabinet in some way. It allows the customer to hold, to touch the materials and see how it would look on her. Make it easy for customers to see and get what they want,” Youngberg advised.
Coker of RYA, whose clients include Beretta, Fossil, Neiman Marcus, Richard Eiseman and Sulka, agreed.
“Merchandise is always important, but it seems like our stores now want to make their merchandise more approachable. That may mean open-selling a cosmetic line or fashion accessories. They’re not locked behind counters or under glass, so that the customer has more interaction with merchandise.”
Owner Bill Mackin has tried to design Forty Five Ten in sync with this philosophy.
While Ylang-Ylang’s pricy jewelry is under glass, lock and key, fashion accessories and cosmetics are readily accessible to customers. “With many of these things, it’s really better to be able to touch them,” said Mackin.
COLD: Closed Ceilings
A broad range of ceiling designs are coming into fashion, but standard two-by-two lay-in ceilings are fading from prominence. Mostly, ceilings are opening up.
“We’re seeing a lot of people using existing structures — ductwork, etc. — and treating them with paint or other applications,” said Youngberg.
This can have an adverse effect on energy costs, though, Youngberg warned. It’s a challenge to maintain comfort and have high ceilings, too, he admitted.
At Forty Five Ten, Mackin removed the ceiling tiles to reveal the ironwork that held those tiles in place, and then covered the ducts with tufted vinyl, all painted white.
“We wanted to work with the existing space, but adjust it to fit the needs of the store,” he explained.
“There’s a lot of architectural engineering going on in these ceilings,” added Coker. “They give us grounding, like flooring does.”
COLD: Bad Taste
Amazingly, the experts felt it necessary to point out that bad taste has been a popular element on store design, whether by default or design. The good news is it’s on the way out.
“Gray and mauve (together or separately) is taboo at our firm,” concluded Coker at RYA.