Benetton has long made a name for itself as much for its line of kicky, colorful clothing as for its sometimes shocking social and political ad campaigns. But despite the 36-year-old chain's success and longevity, it realized the need to create a new business model of larger-format, corporate-owned stores to keep it competitive. Part of that new business model included a bright, airy design scheme with a flexible fixturing system that would create a more unified look from store to store. For designers implementing the prototype into stores on the West Coast, the design presented a unique set of challenges. California was in a state of energy emergency.
Atlaschi Hatfield Architects (AHA!, Marina del Rey, Calif.) had worked with Benetton since 1996. Its designers were essentially challenged with reproducing Benetton's signature "light, crisp, airy" look with considerably less light sources. The first test was at a new 3500-square-foot Benetton store at Century City Mall in Los Angeles. Architects first dropped the ceiling height in the center of the store to 9-1/2 feet, leaving cove areas and side perimeters up to 12 feet high. The lowered ceiling height reduced the number of fixtures by bringing the light source closer to its target: the merchandise.
Next, architects incorporated a projected light cove along the perimeter for continuous fluorescent strip lighting that is hidden from view. This strategy allows the walls to be washed with a soft white light on the upper portions of the store's perimeter and raises the level of ambient lighting.
MasterColor metal halide lamps were used because of their high lumen output (3000 degrees Kelvin, which closely emulates incandescent lights), high Color Rendering Index rating (CRI of up to 92) and long life (10,000 hours). The lamps are housed in low-profile, unobtrusive Mondial light fixtures as much for their versatility -- they can be used as adjustable downlights in ceilings, as wallwashers and for perimeter task lighting -- as for their aesthetics.
The storefront is a dramatic departure from Benetton's previous look, which relied on a custom window frame detail and had a solid-wood finish. Atlaschi says the new approach looks at the storefront as a transparent element, with full-height glazing and no frame except for the sill, which is done in stainless steel. Once inside, the color and materials palette is light and neutral. Light-beige stone flooring is underfoot.
The store fixturing system, however, is the biggest change. Previously, a wood panel system was attached to the wall with brass hardware -- a hassle and difficult to install. The new system, designed by Asso Spa (Padova, Italy), consists primarily of flexible, standard, easily modified freestanding fixtures that can sit on the floor or be anchored to the wall.
Benetton's new business model is on a fast-track rollout. In addition to encouraging licensees to implement the new design, the retailer is opening a slew of corporate-owned megastores. Of the 21 slated to open within the next 10 months, three 10,000-square-foot stores in Manhattan -- at 42nd Street and Third Avenue, at Broadway between Prince and Spring streets and in Chelsea, at 17th Street and Seventh Avenue -- will be open by end of year.
Design Team: Atlaschi Hatfield Architects Inc. (AHA!), Marina del Rey, Calif. -- Amin Atlaschi and Russell Hatfield, principals-in-charge
Client Team: Benetton Marketing Design Dept., Treviso, Italy; Asso Spa, Padova, Italy Outside Consultant: David Silverman & Associates, Glendale, Calif. (lighting procurement)
Audio/Video: DMX/AEI Music, Los Angeles
Fixturing/Furniture/Mannequins and Forms: Asso Spa, Padova, Italy
Flooring: Junckers Hardwood Inc., Anaheim, Calif.
Graphics: Benetton Marketing Design Dept., Treviso, Italy
Lighting: Targetti North America, Santa Ana, Calif., RSA Lighting, Chatsworth, Calif., Bega, Carpinteria, Calif.
Paint: Dunn Edwards, Los Angeles
Photography: Richard Fowler, Las Vegas