Ghurka, purveyor of luxury handbags, is going all high-end and fashionable, opening large spaces in Chicago and Manhattan.
The transformation to clean and modern retailer is courtesy of The Accessory Network Group (ANG), the designer, manufacturer and marketer of fashion bags and accessories that purchased Ghurka in 2003. This is ANG's first foray into buying a luxury niche label it believes is underperforming. After the acquisition, ANG conducted extensive studies and decided to revamp the brand, expand its retail presence and bring in new top talent.
Last summer, Ken Landis – formerly ceo of Benetton Cosmetics and co-founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics – became ceo of Ghurka and a major investor. In September 2005, Ghurka appointed fashion designer John Bartlett as creative director responsible for the collections and retail marketing.
"The old look was darker, with antique furniture," says Landis. "We wanted to modernize. We wanted the stores to be clean and minimalist and highlight the merchandise as the star." The first unveiling of the new Janson Goldstein design was in Chicago, a 2100-square-foot Michigan Avenue flagship that opened in September 2004. In March 2005, the New York store doubled its size by moving from 57th Street to choice Madison Avenue real estate near Barneys (between 61st and 62nd streets).
Landis plans on opening 10-15 more stores in the next 15 years. In both Chicago and New York, the interior references Ghurka's distinctive grained leather framing the mirrors and covering display shelving that had been built around awkwardly located structural columns. The display pedestals and mounts chosen by Jeffrey DiGangi (former Donna Karan merchandiser) are emblematic of the new aesthetic: They are sculptural primitive square forms hewn from single pieces of acacia wood by furniture designer, art dealer and world traveler Tucker Robbins.
"Tucker's pieces are great for our budget because they come in many sizes and can be used in many ways – as backdrops, as seating, as product platforms," says DiGangi. "And aesthetically, they are perfect because they convey a timeless rustic feel without resorting to something so literal as a pith helmet."
Architecture and Design: Janson Goldstein LLP, New York
Mark Janson, partner
Steven Scuro, partner
Francesca Venturi, project team member
Outside Design Consultants: Bill Jansing Lighting Consultants, Dallas, (lighting design)
Laszlo Bodak Engineer, New York (MEP engineer)
Jeffrey DiGangi Design, New York (visual display/props)
General Contractor: Richter + Ratner, Maspeth, N.Y.
Carpet: Bentley Prince Street, New York
Fixtures and Furniture: Encore Retail Systems, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Flooring; Allstone, New York
Leather: Ghurka, New York
Lighting: Spectrum Lighting, New York
Photography: Michael Weschler, New York