Megastore Backlash: Designer Units Strive For Cozier, Local Style

Gone are the days when luxury brands raced to open mega-flagships. Now, they’re bringing novel themes to retail design to burnish their images.

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Randall A. Ridless, owner of the interior design firm responsible for reconceiving Burberry’s stores, noted a resurgence of client requests for residential touches. For Burberry’s 57th Street flagship in New York, Ridless created sitting areas replete with mosaic-topped coffee tables, cowhide rugs and floor and table lamps. “These are the kinds of things that you see in a home, not necessarily a retail environment, and it makes it much more inviting,” he said. “We’re finding a lot of clients asking for those touches beyond the architecture and the fixture design.”

However, there are those designers who have a penchant for intellectual references rather than homey touches. McQueen, for one, looked to space and the heavens for inspiration with his Meatpacking District boutique in New York. “I wanted the shop to be like a backdrop, like a blank page every time,” the designer said. “Also, kind of ethereal, almost like walking into a church, the idea of calmness where you’re not faced with too much design theory.”

In his new shop on West 22nd Street here, Nicolas Ghesquière merged industrial elements — exposed brick, wood beams and columns — with synthetic ones that reflect nature such as fake boulders, a ceiling made to illustrate a moving sky and a grotto-like enclave with jeweled stars. “It’s the idea of this artificiality and nature that’s the main concept of the store,” said Ghesquière. “It’s not about trying to re-create nature, but it’s about the evocation of nature with very artificial and technological elements.”

Designers are using more than interior design to create these environments. They’re turning to art exhibits, store-specific merchandise, local touches and even live performances to draw consumers. And no one has done this more than Miuccia Prada. In February, she unveiled the first of what she says will be many installations at the Prada store in SoHo. Entitled “Parallel Universe,” it is dedicated to contemporary China. She filled the downtown flagship, designed by Rem Koolhaas (who also collaborated with the new installation), with references to China, from wallpaper to Asian-featured mannequins and videos of daily life there. “The basic idea of the store was that it was a place where we could experiment on different levels,” Prada said. “Three years ago, we started saying that we were kind of fed up with the old stores all being equal. That was the reason we contacted these famous architects [Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron were commissioned to work on the Tokyo Prada store], and since the beginning, the idea was to do something new and different.”
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