If Old Navy and Gap are for the youthful, idealistic and fun-loving woman in her 20s, then Gap Inc.'s newest concept is for her older sibling, perhaps even her mother.
But older doesn't mean frumpy or outdated. The target Forth & Towne customer yearns for stylish and contemporary clothing that reflects her busy life and slowing metabolism.
"When you reach a certain age, and you're living this big powerful life with family and friends and careers, clothes are an addition to that great life," says Austyn Zung, senior vp, design and product development, for Forth & Towne. "So we stepped back and asked how we can best service these women who want to be stylish and contemporary but just aren't getting what they want out there."
Working with designers at Rockwell Group (New York), Gap sought a retail concept that would please this 35-plus mature woman, who knows what she likes. The name Forth & Towne – referring to the fact that this is Gap's fourth concept – is meant to create a sense of place and community. It launched this past fall, in five locations around Chicago and New York.
"We knew this woman was balancing many aspects in her life," says David Rockwell, founder and ceo of his firm, "and that she was having trouble finding ways to assemble an outfit that worked perfectly."
Gap constructed the Forth & Towne concept around four brands to cover a range of lifestyles. Allegory is for the more traditional sister; Vocabulary reflects an artistic, individual style; Prize celebrates the fun-loving woman; and Gap Edition is for the those who grew up with Gap essentials and are now looking to wear them again as a size 10 middle-aged woman, not a size 2 coed.
How do you take these four distinctive personalities and put them into a store environment that is both inviting and easy to shop? Rockwell says designers started by looking at the rituals of shopping and then creating a place that celebrated that. "This was about creating a sanctuary for a woman with many priorities," he said.
Inspired by what he calls "the generosity of old department stores," Rockwell included places for sitting, fixtures that don't require bending over too far and ample spacing between displays.
At the center of this shopping sanctuary is the area perhaps most women dread – the dressing room.
Located literally in the center of the store is a circular fitting salon that features 12 individually styled rooms inviting women to linger and be pampered. Among the amenities are personally adjustable lighting, refreshments and chocolates and fashion accessories displayed on a nearby styling table.
"It's like every woman's dream of the perfect closet," says Zung. "You can sit with all of these clothes, magazines and your friends, and just hang out. There's a real sense of camaraderie and community that's created here."
Out on the sales floor, each of the four collections is presented in a shop environment inspired by interpretations of how each personality type decorates her own home, using area rugs, furniture and wallcoverings. So, in Gap Edition, a bright green wall and variegated striped carpeting express the optimistic and casual style of this shopper, while more sedate colors in Allegory appeal to a more reserved personality.
Rockwell says store lighting serves almost as a makeup mirror, with soft incandescents around the perimeter and task lighting highlighting the clothes. A sparkling chandelier hangs inside the dressing room, with stainless steel rods tipped in clear filament bulbs. Backlit walls, including one in the accessories area located at the rear of the store, lend a soft glow.
A runway-like assembly of mannequins at the entrance leads shoppers inside, cueing them to the four apparel collections. Gap started with traditional size 2 mannequins (from Bernstein Display, Brooklyn, N.Y.), but is currently working to create a line designed specifically for the Forth & Towne concept in a more realistic size 8 or 10.
"We really want the mannequins to reflect the body type of the woman walking in the door," says Zung.
While many retailers, like Abercrombie & Fitch's Ruehl, Limited's C.O. Bigelow and Chico's Soma, have been courting the mature female shopper in recent years, Gap says the heart of its Forth & Towne concept – an accessible and communal shopping experience – is a key differentiator.
"The last person a woman at this age thinks of is herself," says Zung. "So we're giving her a place under one roof where she can shop for four different brands in a pampering and comfortable environment."
Gap plans to launch five additional Forth & Towne stores in 2006.
Client: Forth & Towne, San Francisco
Gary Muto, president
Helen Herrick, director, store design
Ron Mckean, senior director, store standards
Jamie Laycock, senior director, visual merchandising
Dennis Julio, director, construction
Jenn O'Malley, director, store experience
Lois Butler, project manager
Tracy Roeder, project manager
Design: Rockwell Group, New York
David Rockwell, founder/ceo
Henry Myerberg, principal
Gregory Stanford, senior designer
Robert Lipson, senior project manager
Evan Bennett , Karen Davidov, Cemre Durusoy, Luisa Gonzalez, Elizabeth Sayner, Hilli Wuerz, staff
Architect: Callison, Seattle
Dawn Clark, principal-in-charge
Tom Rasnack, project manager
Tom McCardle, project architect
Nancy Chen, Mandi Hoskins, project staff
Outside Design Consultants: Focus Lighting, New York (lighting)
General Contractor: Fisher Development Inc. San Francisco
Andrew Earnhardt, director of construction
Ron Watson, superintendent, Palisades
Terry Munden, superintendent, Old Orchard
Tom Jagusch, superintendent, Woodfield
Rein Werner, superintendent, Algonquin
Curt Thompson, assistant superintendent, Fox Valley
Harvey Torr, general superintendent
Gary Gick, Joseph Geyer, Carl Musacchia, Amy Marino, project managers/staff
Ken Pickart, ceo
Dave Demaray, estimator
Maria Legaspi, purchasing agent
Area Rugs: Signature, Dalton, Ga.
Durkan, New York
Audio/Visual: Costello Maione Schuch, Melville, N.Y.
Fabrics and Slipcovers: Lee Jofa, Bethpage, N.Y.
Lazar, Los Angeles
Kaas Tailored, Mukiteo, Wash.
Kravet, Bethpage, N.Y.
Maharam, New York
Duralee, New York
Unika Vaev, New York
Zax Inc., Denver
Fixtures: Fleetwood Fixtures, Reading, Pa.
Marlite, Dover, Ohio
Furniture: Lazar, Los Angeles
Mitchell Gold, Taylorsville, N.C.
Lee Jota, Bethpage, N.Y.
Lighting: Focus Lighting, New York
Mannequins/Forms: Bernstein Display, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Mirrors: Museum Editions, New York
Paint: Benjamin Moore Paint Co., Montvale, N.J.
Picture Hanging System: Walker Display Inc., Duluth, Minn.
Signage/Graphics: Thomas Swan Signs, San Francisco
Tile Flooring: Colorco, Merrimack, N.H.
Artistic Tile, New York
Wallcoverings and Materials: Sonia's Place, New York
Clarence House, New York
Wolf-Gordon, New York
Innovations, New York
Philip Jeffries, Fairfield, N.J.
Photography: Adrian Wilson, New York