After an eight-month renovation, the Carolina Herrera flagship on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue reopens today in all its ebullient glory. While its fanciful design projects high spirits and a carefree attitude, its purpose couldn’t be more serious: to clearly telegraph the ethos of the brand, after undergoing significant evolution under president Emilie Rubinfeld and creative director Wes Gordon, spurred by Gordon’s designs that have brought a new youthful attitude to the house while remaining faithful to the house founder’s steadfast belief in beautiful. The shift is very much a leadership focus at Puig, which owns the Herrera business. “Following the momentum that the brand is enjoying with the arrival of Wes, and the excellent performance of his collections, it is time to mark a new milestone with the renovation and reopening of our flagship in Manhattan that features the new brand image,” said José Manuel Albesa, president, Puig brands, markets and operations. “Every detail has been thoughtfully curated and considered to provide a new world-class brand experience synonymous with Carolina Herrera.”
In an exchange with WWD, Rubinfeld elaborated on the importance of making a bold retail statement early in Gordon’s tenure. “The flagship is the physical representation of our codes and the values we are expressing today…” she said. “It has to reflect our best selves.”
WWD: The building was built in 1925 by architect George F. Pelham, part of the Upper East Side Historic District. You made significant changes to its facade.
Emilie Rubinfeld: Throughout the development process of the project, our intention was enhancement, enhancement, enhancement and [to] bring back the “residential” feeling of the building’s original state. All of those charming and distinctive neoclassical details from the Twenties are totally intact and in fact, with the renovation, were restored.
WWD: This is a major undertaking at a time when physical retail is challenged. It suggests a significant commitment to Madison Avenue by the brand and parent group Puig.
E.R.: Creating a new retail concept was essential in this stage of the Carolina Herrera evolution. Today, evolving the look and feel of the collection is not enough to communicate [that] we are investing in the house, committed to our direction and building a relevant brand. Our new store environment on Madison is the embodiment of this American fashion house and our brand overall. The flagship is the physical representation of our codes and the values we are expressing today; it is our idealized environment to complement the clothes from Wes’ creative direction. But in many ways, the new concept reflects very much the spirit of the codes and values first established by Carolina herself. To tell the next chapter of our story authentically, we had to look at all our brand touch points — and outside of the product/the clothes, the retail environment is most important.
Carolina Herrera on Madison Avenue is at the heart of our total brand — it represents our roots, our heritage.…It has to reflect our best selves and be a destination for those who seek to experience Carolina Herrera, and a beautiful discovery to those who happen upon our store.
WWD: Are you at all concerned by the lack of traffic on Madison Avenue?
E.R.: For us, in luxury retail, we can’t and don’t rely on foot traffic. A ready-to-wear business like ours is driven by our associates connecting with their clients remotely. Our clients are global, they travel and we provide concierge-like service no matter where or when. That said, the remote, digital experience can’t take the place of the one-on-one engagement with an associate and customization from the in-house tailoring service our boutique provides. On upper Madison, we do enjoy being a neighborhood destination for our local clients and a travel destination for guests at the three exquisite hotels [Carlyle, Mark, Surrey] in the neighborhood. In fact, during our temporary stay just five blocks down, we missed the hotel traffic of guests that never ventured down past 72nd. We love our charming corner of New York City and wouldn’t change it for the world!
WWD: What do you want this boutique to say about the Carolina Herrera brand and world?
E.R.: The new Carolina Herrera store experience should reflect the wearer’s visceral experience of the clothes — it’s joyful, happy; there is a sense of unpretentious elegance. Carolina from the beginning insisted the store experience should be like visiting a home — [the sense of] entertaining, being a host, with a warm welcome. And like the collection, the materials are beautiful; there is exceptional attention to detail, color and proportion. We want all our guests, our clients, to come to our flagship and feel beautiful, indulged and special — to escape, dream and keep coming back. Wes always says in a world with so much darkness, Carolina Herrera should be full of color, joy and happiness. And like our clothes, that’s what this store should be!
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