History is repeating itself in New York. The part of West 34th Street long anchored by Macy’s is experiencing a revival as a Midtown shopping destination with a roster of familiar retail brands that includes Banana Republic, The Gap, Express, Victoria’s Secret and American Eagle. And just to cement the idea of “revival,” one of the new tenants is Esprit, the apparel giant of the 1980s and ’90s.
But don’t think of this as a bath of nostalgia. This Esprit brand is no longer a vague memory of commodity tops and desert vistas in the minds of today’s 30-something consumer. The company now sports a new brand direction featuring a more refined and stylish product in a contemporary setting of stainless steel and repurposed wood. To set the tone, Esprit’s New York flagship, which opened this past spring, has a fresh decor package, with a variation of design and subtle changes in mood and materials.
Gone are the red doors and white walls. Instead, Esprit offers a twist on Memphis design, the groundbreaking movement of the early 1980s that challenged convention with bright colors and dramatic shapes. The new store takes the playful and unpredictable qualities of that period and pushes it into a contemporary environment. For example, at the store entrance, customers are greeted by eight abstract mannequins by Hans Boodt. Positioned on a multi-level platform, their quirky angles reference the unconventional shapes of the Memphis movement.
Perhaps more than anything else in the store, a focal stairwell featuring a dramatic cantilevered staircase symbolizes the retailer’s rejuvenated image. Engineered as a gravity-defying architectural gesture, the staircase appears to float in space. The glass and stainless-steel treads climb a gunmetal colored wall without apparent benefit of support. “The store was built from the ground up,” says Jerry Tucci Sr. of J. Tucci Construction Corp. (Bayside, N.Y.). “The slab had to be reworked and reinforced with steel supports to provide the desired visual effect.”
The three-level, 18,000-square-foot store, featuring both men’s and women’s collections from evening to casual wear, was designed by Cornelle Uedingslohmann Architken (Cologne, Germany) and implemented by Barteluce Architects & Associates (New York) in conjunction with Esprit’s in-house store design team. Though slated for global rollout, the new concept was introduced in New York to showcase the revitalized brand in the largest Esprit outlet in North America.
But the store design isn’t stuck in Manhattan. Rather, it takes its customers on a journey through what could be Route 66 cutting through the Nevada desert. Images of highway road signs, serene landscapes and weather-beaten cars with aging tachometers accompany lifestyle presentations of merchandise.
The environmental graphics, printed on fabric and hung from wall-mounted aluminum blades, are changed out at store level to freshen the look and feel of the environment. The surface treatments feature a wide breadth of textures that include concrete glazes over wood paneling and composite flooring material. Cashwrap areas are softened with reconstituted wood and the illuminated Esprit logo. At the fitting room area, flooring changes take the customer from concrete to a warm European wood aisle that is evocative of a fashion runway.
A full wall of windows overlooks bustling 34th Street, sending lifestyle imagery out onto the street. It also takes the Esprit logo and tumbles and fragments it, announcing to the world that this may be the same Esprit name they remember and love, but there’s a whole new experience of rediscovery going on inside.
Esprit, New York
Cornelle Uedingslohmann Architekten, Cologne, Germany
Barteluce Architects & Associates, New York
J. Tucci Construction Corp., Bayside, N.Y.
Pyramid Flooring, Port Washington, N.Y.
Haywood Berk Floor Co., New York
A Val Architectural Metal, College Point, N.Y.
DSF, Raritan, N.J.
Umdasch Shop Concept, Osterreich, Austria
Hans Boodt Mannequins, Zwijndrecht, The Netherlands
Big Apple Visual Group, New York
Koenig Iron Works, Long Island City, N.Y.
San Jon, New York