Esprit is a child of the U.S. born in San Francisco in the 1960s, the junior fashion apparel company grew to become a $3.5 billion international business. In this country, the bulk of its revenues came from juniors departments in about 250 department stores. Three years ago, the now-Hong Kong-based company phased out its U.S. retail stores entirely.
But today, Esprit is seeking to shed its image as a teen brand, repositioning itself as a youthful yet sophisticated lifestyle brand offering what it calls "smart, affordable luxury apparel" to women and men alike. As part of that process, the company is relaunching its retail presence in the U.S., by opening a half-dozen stores this fall in New York and New Jersey. Serving as the beachhead for that effort is its new flagship on Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan's Flatiron district, designed by WalkerGroup (New York).
"Esprit asked us to create a completely new design for its store that would remain true to its brand yet be unique to New York," says WalkerGroup design principal Jay Valgora.
The site is in an 1899 McKim, Mead and White building, in space previously occupied by Emporio Armani. Because it's in a designated landmark district, designers were limited in the size of exterior signage they could place on the store, Valgora notes. "As a result," he says, "we decided to turn the entire space into a sign, primarily by restoring its arched display windows - which Armani had partially covered with scrims - to their original size and providing clear sight lines inside the store from the front to its rear."
Clearing the interior sightlines involved scaling back several massive columns within the space. "The columns were completely encased in concrete and effectively divided the store in two," Valgora says. "We mixed the old and new by exposing the underlying cast-iron columns and then wrapping them in a delicate cage of blackened steel and partially infilling them with brilliantly illuminated slumped-glass panels that spiral up to the ceiling."
Not surprisingly, Esprit's famous stencil logo appears in several places around the store. "We embraced Esprit's tradition of using its logo as a bold design feature," Valgora explains, "by working with artists and craftsmen to interpret the logo in totally new ways, using such materials as Chinese float glass mosaic tile, industrial slumped glass and laser-cut blackened steel." Among the areas displaying the logo is the custom-designed Elixir juice bar that was installed in a highly visible spot at the front right-hand corner of the store "to help the space engage the street," he notes.
Overall, the store interior sports a spare, loft-like character. There's the partially exposed brick walls and a ceiling consisting of a series of suspended floating sheetrock panels with openings that reveal the original vaulted space. The centerpiece is a central runway with an iridescent quartzite floor and a series of internally illuminated fixtures featuring the latest additions to Esprit's lines.
"Esprit is very fashion-forward - it delivers new styles 12 times a year," Valgora says. "While the runway is the most visible expression of that fact, we worked to create an overall environment that clearly demonstrates the company's passion for fashion."
Client: Esprit, Hong Kong
Design/Architect: WalkerGroup, New York
Randall Ng, president
Jay Valgora, design principal
Miho Koshido, project designer
Demetrius Malefakis, project coordinator
Steven Kitezh, color and materials manager
George Kewin, studio director
Won Suk Lee, designer
Anil Dadarkar, designer
Manuel Sia, designer
Rosanna Lee, designer
Ana Luisa Rolim, designer
Emy Gargiulo, senior graphic designer
Kasey Watt, graphic designer
Outside Design Consultants: Dusti Helms, New York (lighting)
General Contractor, Ceilings: J.T. Magen, New York
Audio: Bose, Framingham, Mass.
Carpeting: Atlas Carpets Inc., Los Angeles
Custom Slumped Glass: Nova Glass, Concord, Ont.
Fixtures: Mass Merchandising, Islandia, N.Y.
Salzberg Interiors & Furniture, Brampton, Ont.
Flooring: Pet Mal, Westbury, N.Y.
Oregon Lumber Inc., Lake Oswego, Ore.
Furniture: Sublime, New York
Paint: Benjamin Moore, Montvale, N.J.
Signage and Graphics: Color Edge, New York
Vinyl Fabric: L.K. Trading Intl. Ltd., Markham, Ont.
Wallcoverings: Lonseal, Carson, Calif.
, Jersey City, N.J.
Photography: Michele Curel, Barcelona