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NEW YORK — One might say Tom Ford is fixated on duality.

After all, he’s a man whose tastes run toward black, minimalist interiors, bold infusions of sex, and a design aesthetic that toes the line between hard and soft. So it’s not surprising that his new Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche store is no exception.

This story first appeared in the June 3, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Situated at 3 East 57th Street, next door to the mammoth LVMH building, the 11,400-square-foot space, which opened Monday, is a study in contrasts and reveals a sleek, polished interior with rustic, hand-carved accents.

“There’s a rough, handmade quality to the floors and the chiseled wood pieces,” said Ford in a telephone interview from London, where he was putting the finishing touches on his cruise collections for both YSL and Gucci. “The Saint Laurent clothes are so refined, yet there is always a handmade quality to the finishing….I always try to incorporate lots of details in the clothing so that there’s a certain complexity to it.

“I wanted the same sort of modernity, but with a handmade feel to some of the pieces in the shop. I also like that some of the polish of the clothes is offset with sort of rough, almost brutal furniture pieces and concrete floors.”

Of course, brutality in Ford’s world has a certain chicness not usually associated with its typical definitions. But a play on hardness emerges by his juxtaposition of a modern environ of sleek lines, smoky mirrors, white lacquer walls, charcoal accents and Art Deco references with rougher elements such as hand-hewn wood wardrobes, slate-colored concrete floors and ponyskin daybeds in white and black.

“I looked through the archives, pictures of Yves’ apartment and thought about my favorite collections at Saint Laurent and the ones that really stuck out, really defined the brand for me,” said Ford. “Throughout his career Yves came back so many times to the Thirties and Forties, which was of course the period he grew up in. For me, that period was the Sixties and Seventies, which was the period I drew upon when I was designing the Gucci stores. But YSL’s period influences of the Thirties and Forties were much more about verticality and skyscrapers and the future.

“Saint Laurent for me was about black, night, evening — sexy but in a different way. So when I was designing it, I was very conscious of making it very YSL, but also very different from Gucci,” said Ford.

By tweaking the color palette, using different materials and aiming for a narrower, more vertical design aesthetic, Ford and architect William Sofield have managed to keep both brands’ stores unique.

Also, in a move that marks a bit of a departure for the designer, Ford has implemented white rooms — to counter the darkness of other YSL stores.

“There’s a lot of white in this store which is really in response to our customers. Black is my favorite. The Madison Avenue store has much more black in it, which I personally love. I mean, I live in a black glass house. I really like that,” said the designer.

“But we had had comments from a lot of customers that felt it was too dark, so we added some white…there are more white rooms in this store than there were in the first generation [of stores].”

Not quite an explosion of color, the bright white rooms, along with the dove gray accents sprinkled throughout the store, should satisfy naysayers tired of his ultimately chic, but darkened retail enclaves.

Yet the design of the 57th Street store isn’t all about weighty design philosophies. It’s also an exercise in keen business acumen. YSL’s accessories business has grown under Ford’s helm and the company is making a push to properly showcase the burgeoning product category. The first floor is made up entirely of accessories, with an array of Nadja and Mombasa bags in varied hues, a nook for YSL Beauté, and a first-ever shoe salon in the back — an exclusive addition to the 57th Street location. The women’s and men’s ready-to-wear collections are situated on the second floor.

“Accessories have a big part of our business, which is something I’m very proud of because when I first started there was an amazing history of clothes, obviously, and shoes to a certain extent, but there really wasn’t culturally a YSL vocabulary for handbags,” said Ford. “We’ve been able to establish ourselves very quickly as a serious handbag company as well as a clothing company.

“Also, the size of the collection has grown so dramatically since we designed the first store, that a large devotion to accessories really allows us the opportunity to show all these things off. There’s also the simple fact that accessories have a higher margin and you make more money,” said Ford with a laugh.

The YSL store on Madison Avenue was renovated almost two years ago and while the company is pleased with that location, it is anticipating a different customer base for 57th Street.

“The nature of upper Madison Avenue is that it tends to be more locally driven and attract more ready-to-wear-oriented customers,” said Mark Lee, president of Yves Saint Laurent. “So in terms of our long-term strategic goals, in terms of developing handbags and shoes and accessories, we felt it was very important to have a prime location such as 57th Street to develop those categories.…It has been designed and laid out with a focus on accessories. We expect to capitalize on the tremendous traffic potential, local and tourist, that should exist in that location.”

The new store is currently selling the spring-summer collection as well as pre-collection pieces. Retail prices range from $220 to $5,400 for handbags; $1,800 to $2,700 for women’s coats; $1,200 to $3,400 for women’s suits and $2,600 to $6,800 for dresses. The label is also carried at high-end stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

Lee declined to reveal sales forecasts for the new store.

Additional Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche stores are slated to open this summer in Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive and the Americana in Manhasset, which will have a version of the 57th Street look and bring the number of YSL stores in the U.S. to 10. “When Gucci Group acquired the brand at the end of 1999, we only had two stores in the U.S., both in New York — on Madison Avenue and a men’s store in SoHo,” said Lee, adding the SoHo store has since been closed.

By the end of the year, there will be 59 YSL stores, according to Lee, with new and renovated shops opening in Rome, Paris, Hong Kong, London and Singapore.

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