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NEW YORK — The chic urban spaces that Tom Ford and interior architect Bill Sofield created for Gucci, like its Fifth Avenue flagship, offer a study in late-Nineties cool. The look — glass, marble, plush carpeting and stainless steel with nods to Neutra’s architecture — showed just how unstuffy and modern luxury stores could be.

Even the best design concepts need a little freshening up now and then, though, which is why Ford and Sofield have collaborated on a new formula to be unveiled this weekend at the Gucci store opening at Madison Avenue and 69th Street.

This story first appeared in the September 5, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“It’s a little less slick,” Ford says of the new look. “In the mid to late Nineties, when we were developing the first Gucci store concepts, fashion was very slick. I think fashion is less that way now.”

The Madison Avenue shop, with 7,000 square feet of selling space, is the first store completed in the new style, although the flagships in both Milan and Paris are being refurbished in the latest look as well.

“I love our Gucci stores,” Ford said during a phone interview from his office in London, “but the design is now about six years old. I wanted to update that look without obliterating it. The architectural vocabulary we’ve developed for Gucci, which is very long, low and horizontal, is a strong one. It’s the vocabulary we used in rebuilding the brand, so it’s important to keep it and, with the new design, I didn’t want to instantly date all of our other stores all over the world.”

Though those Gucci classics of high-gloss lacquer and hints of stainless steel crop up in the store, the new look is created by design touches like dark-striped wood paneling, poured concrete displays and a dark, sleek hematite ceiling over the central staircase. Rectilinear bronze glass chandeliers hang from the second floor, while a curtain on thin, brown acrylic rods dangles in front of the windows upstairs.

Ford’s Gucci woman, who has always played with contradictions like tough-chic and masculine-feminine, is sure to feel at home in a place where rough surfaces are contrasted with smooth ones and the urban meets the organic. Thick floating resin slabs, lit from within, serve as glowing risers for footwear, creating an edgy, industrial touch, while a pebbled concrete floor brings a natural element to the mix. A long, low couch and the walls of the dressing rooms are covered with a cozy sueded mohair that plays off of the store’s smoky mirrors, thick slabs of polished Lucite in the display units and nubby dark brown carpeting.

In addition to the traditional Gucci goods offered for sale at the brand’s stores worldwide, Ford will introduce two new retail categories at the Madison location: made-to-order men’s wear and made-to-measure men’s wear as of this weekend, and made-to-order handbags in October. “Madison Avenue is very different than Fifth Avenue,” he said. “There is more local traffic and it’s one of the most affluent areas of New York, so your customers can afford a different kind of merchandise. There will be more expensive, exclusive merchandise that won’t be available at the store on Fifth Avenue.”

With the Madison Avenue store, Ford and Sofield, who has also designed the interiors for Gucci group brands Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Boucheron, have shown just how utterly modern a retail interior can be. After all, their work is aesthetic history in the making, and they’ve approached the new project just as a pair of conservationists might.

“At the five-year mark, I looked at our Gucci stores and I thought that we had done something potentially iconic,” said Ford. “If we hang onto it, it will become a modern classic. But the fundamental design elements in the store are right, so with the new style, we looked for ways to change and update that design, while maintaining the core elements.”

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