Neiman Marcus has been building a reputation as the ultimate specialty store since 1907, when Theodore Roosevelt was president, Oklahoma had just become the 46th state and gasoline cost 18 cents a gallon.
Over those 100 years, the retailer has solidified a space in retailing history as the place for unparalleled customer service, luxury product and innovative presentation. So while pausing to celebrate its centennial in September, Neiman Marcus already has its sights on the next century of luxury retailing with a new store in Natick, Mass., that embodies its definition of “modern luxury.”
“This store design is not trend-driven or of-the-moment,” says Ignaz Gorischek, Neiman’s vp, store development and visual planning. “It has a finesse and sensibility that will allow it to endure time beautifully.”
The 103,337-square-foot store is located 20 miles west of Boston at Natick Collection mall, which recently underwent a $500 million expansion. (Neiman’s operates another Boston store, at Copley Place.) The luxury-goods retailer partnered with Toronto-based design firm burdifilek to bring Neiman’s into a new era while respecting the attributes that are its heritage.
“Once you pass the threshold, this store speaks of quality and high fashion but in a comfortable setting,” says Diego Burdi, partner and co-founder at burdifilek.
While designers couldn’t alter the DNA of the Neiman Marcus experience – such as keeping the cosmetics department as an open floor, rather than breaking it up into separate shops; maintaining a specific ratio of designer and precious jewelry on display; and incorporating a generous amount of local artwork into the space – they were given some creative license with the aesthetics, including the store’s materials and finishes palette. And that effort makes a statement at the front door, where Neiman’s displays one of its most striking façades to date.
“The façade was spirited after a woman’s gown and the soft, sensuous flowing of the fabric,” says Gorischek. “It reflects light during the day. And in the evening, lit up, it’s just spectacular.”
The undulating stainless-steel structure, designed by Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects, stands 40 feet high and features layers of silver, nickel and champagne colors to create the illusion of a flowing dress. Beneath it, a ribbon of celadon channel glass and showcase windows are anchored in a native pink granite base.
While the façade presents a fresh face for Neiman’s, the interior is rooted in the retailer’s prototypical store layout. The main floor houses women’s shoes, handbags, jewelry and men’s, while up the escalator sits women’s contemporary, designer sportswear, couture, home decor, children’s and intimate apparel.
But Gorischek points out that the Natick store carries a more modern, if subtle, polish than Neiman’s has used in the past. “The exterior is very fluid and the interior has straighter lines but with a modern edge that complements the exterior,” he says.
So shoppers will find polished stainless steel, ghost glass and Lucite materials in various thicknesses and shapes. Even the iconic Neiman butterfly, which has become a signature element hanging in the center escalator well, underwent a mild metamorphosis, going from white feathers to a more modern, clear Lucite material.
“A lot of the pieces we put into the Natick store, from the area carpets to the visual enhancements, have that modern sensibility,” says Gorischek. “We tweaked and adjusted our usual elements to specifically fit with this new environment.”
One example of that tweaking is the use of bleached zebrawood throughout the store. Neiman’s had used the material in the past and brought it back for this anniversary store with an updated palette of finishes. So, in the cosmetics and handbag area, the wood was heavily bleached to show a lot of grain and highlight the striations between the dark grain and the whiteness of the bleach. On the second floor, the effect is more subtle, while in the fur department, also on the second floor, the wood was stained with a bluish-gray finish. “It’s not glitzy but it has a modern flair,” says Burdi.
The design firm developed several of the custom finishes for its client. “For every sample we presented to them, we went through 30 renditions before we got the one we wanted,” he says. “They’re design-sensitive and it was fun to play with them. They get it right.”
Another area where Neiman’s was willing to loosen the reins was in the women’s contemporary department. Here, designers created a loft-like environment, complete with gray porcelain flooring, custom wire pendant lamps and concrete columns with cone-shaped caps reminiscent of a century-old building in Manhattan. Along the perimeter walls, slabs of white are juxtaposed against chocolate brown while an exposed ceiling coffer running around the perimeter houses a wood deck.
“It’s an interesting mix of planes, shapes, textures and lights,” says Gorischek. “It works very beautifully.”
Translucent screens are generously incorporated throughout the store, including men’s, home decor, handbags and jewelry, to help artfully separate departments, while offering a place to hang product. Composed of various materials, including polished steel, powdercoated metal, glass and Lucite, each screen was designed to relate to the department it adorns. In women’s contemporary, white steel screens fashioned from metal slats offer a retro vibe to the area. “It gives this sense of creating space without creating barriers,” says Gorischek.
With its thoughtful balance of modern touches and traditional architecture, the Natick store sends a message to shoppers that this centenarian plans to age gracefully.
“It highlights everything that is recognizable about Neiman’s in the past and gives the shopper a view of where they would like to go,” Burdi says.
Client: Neiman Marcus, Dallas – Ignaz Gorischek, vp, store development; Christopher Lebamoff, vp, store planning; Clifford Suen, vp, property development; Kip Smith, senior property development manager; Zeke Zell, senior project manager, store planning
Design: burdifilek, Toronto – Diego Burdi, principal; Paul Filek, principal; Tom Yip, senior designer; Janice Keeson, designer; Mariko Nakagawa, designer; William Lau, designer (model); Michael Steele, designer (model); York Wu, designer (model); Anna Jurkiewicz, CAD technician; Maria Kakarantza, CAD technician; Tracy Morton, CAD technician; Edwin Reyes, CAD technician; Tony Tey, CAD technician
Outside Design Consultants: Gluckman Enginneering Associates, New York, MEP engineers; Integrated Lighting Concepts, Westlake Village, Calif. (lighting)
Shell Architect: Elkus Manfredi Architects, Boston
General Contractor: Bond Brothers Construction, Everett, Mass.
Fixturing: Modern Woodcrafts, Lewiston, Maine; Columbia Showcase, Sun Valley, Calif.; New York Fixture Co., Long Island, N.Y.
Wall Coverings: Rodgers, Toronto
Flooring: Invision, Dalton, Ga.; Sullivan Source, Toronto; Innovative Stone, Hauppauge, N.Y.
Special Finishes: Moss & Lam, Toronto
Lighting: Winona, Winona, Maine; Prescolite Inc., Spartanburg, S.C.; Indy / Juno Lighting, Des Plaines, Ill.; RSA / Cooper Lighting, Peachtree City, Ga.; Bartco Lighting, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Lucite: Acrylic Fabricating Services, Toronto
Fabrics: Primavera, Toronto
Translucent Resin Glass: Accurra, Toronto
Photography: Charlie Mayer Photography, Oak Park, Ill.