In the mid-1980s, Dutch businesman Rattan Chadha - who had been supplying European department stores with two apparel lines, Moustache for men and Emanuelle for women - decided to represent his brands with a new lifestyle image that's young, vibrant and romantic.
The result was Mexx: (M)oustache and (E)manuelle united with kisses (XX).
Nearly two decades later, Mexx merchandise has become available in 9000 doors throughout Europe, including 115 company-owned stores, 168 franchised locations and 700 vendor shops.
In the U.S., in the meantime, Liz Claiborne Inc. (LCI) had comfortably settled into a department store shop format. Its individual brands - including Ellen Tracy, Laundry, Liz Claiborne, Sigrid Olsen, Crazy Horse and Dana Buchman - all performed successfully, but there was the feeling the corporate brand had become pigeonholed into a slightly older, more conservative market.
So in 2001, LCI bought Mexx (for close to $300 million in cash) and went right after that younger, trendier customer with European sensibilities. Its first two Mexx stores, on New York's Fifth Avenue and in suburban Westchester Mall, were former Liz Claiborne retail spaces and relatively easy to transform. However, the third store, on Union Square, was an old The Wiz consumer electronics store, with the downtown architectural features of several levels, tall windows, high ceilings and long, narrow spaces. Some of those elements were seen as advantages. For others, The Phillips Group (TPG, New York) was commissioned to turn them into advantages.
"Because the space is long and narrow and there's a second floor, Liz Claiborne was concerned about traffic flow," says TPG project manager Cathy Chaffe. "Our challenge was how to lead people through the space and up the stairs."
They placed an escalator at the front of the store, off the entrance, easily visible through the big windows. And they worked around an existing staircase in the middle of the store, which might otherwise have been deemed too wide and ill-placed, by creating circulation flows throughout the first floor that led to the stairs. "We wanted no dead-ends," says Steven Segure, TPG principal. "The solution, imported from Europe, was to create areas of experience, a series of rooms, while not closing off the space."
The colors, very important to the Mexx brand, factored heavily in the store's layout. The overall white box was splashed with patches of color, to create eye-candy but also to identify merchandise areas. Focal walls were painted, and a variety of materials, textures and colors fill the space.
The store fixtures, from idX Corp. (Clayton, Mo.), were also critical to reinforcing the flow. "The fixtures were flexible, so they could carry aspects of color, very important to the Mexx concept," Segure says. "And they could incorporate graphics or have the ability to be merchandised, with items hung, folded or faced out."
A particularly strong fixturing component was the cashwrap, the focal point of the main floor, sleek and clean with softly backlit green glass.
The signal merchandising point of the store, however, is a lifestyle graphic at the rear of the first floor of a couple in the midst of a tender kiss. It's the signature element of Mexx marketing, what the "xx" is all about.
At the grand opening of the Fifth Avenue store, thousands of couples lined the block to take part in the "MexxMates' Contest," a citywide search for the couple that most closely embodies the spirit of fun, non-conformism, empathy and optimism. The winning couple took part in a photo shoot and the image has been displayed on a Times Square billboard, on buses, street pole banners and phone kiosks, and in the store.
For Mexx, the kiss is everything!
Client: Mexx Intl. bv, Voorschoten, The Netherlands - Pim Vanlingen, corporate architect; Marc Vermeuelen, interior architect; Mexx USA, New York - Michael Hindlin, project manager; Simon Dallimore, vp; Amy Schechter, general manager; Andrew Shannon, creative director
Design: TPG Architecture (The Phillips Group), New York - Steven Segure, principal; Cathy Chaffe, project manager; Inga Kruliene, senior designer/director; Eric Waite, job captain; Ronald Alalouf, George Huang, project architects
Outside Design Consultants: Lehr Construction, New York (construction manager); Light Option, New York (lighting)
Suppliers: Barrisol Atlantic, Hillburn, N.Y. (stretched ceiling fabric); idX Corp., Clayton, Mo. (fixtures); Innovative Marble & Tile Inc., Hauppauge, N.Y. (greenstone tiles); Warren Printing, New York (fabric graphic); Show-Offs, New York (lightboxes); Zumtobel Lighting Inc., Highland, N.Y., Con-Tech Lighting, Northbrook, Ill., Lutrex, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (lighting); , New York (mannequins); Capitol Signs, New York (signage)
Photography: Mike Butler Architectural Photography, Hollywood, Fla.