When Paul Stuart announced it was leaving its Michigan Avenue location in Chicago after 15 years and moving around the corner to Oak Street, it seemed like a logical move for the high-end men’s clothier.
Oak Street, after all, is Chicago’s specialty fashion boulevard. The single block between Michigan Avenue and Rush Street is home to the likes of Armani and Barney’s, David Yurman and Hermès, Jimmy Choo and Kate Spade. It’s a perfect neighborhood for a retailer of such elegant and high-quality merchandise.
But in fact, the move was anything but simple. The lease on the old store, on the ground floor of the John Hancock Center, was ending in June 2008. After an aborted plan to move to LaSalle Street, in Chicago’s financial district, Paul Stuart had only four months to pick up and relocate to its new digs. And there were other issues.
Oak Street is home to picturesque townhouses but, at 6500 square feet, the new location was smaller and narrower than the space the retailer was abandoning. That meant a number of architectural challenges for Charles Sparks + Co. (Westchester, Ill.), the design firm on the project. Not least was retaining the brand’s identity for luxury and a lavish shopping experience.
According to Sparks, Paul Stuart president and ceo Clifford Grodd started the process by laying a piece of rich, woven fabric on a table and saying, “I want the store to look like this.” “He was challenging us to create a stylish, artful, aspirational space that supported and enhanced the 70-year-old fashion brand,” Sparks says.
Grodd had insisted that the store not be cold and sterile, so the ceilings and walls are painted a warm vanilla. Rich materials, such as leather and oil-rubbed bronze metalwork, support the luxe intent of the store. Ceiling panels are uplighted to reduce harshness. On the ceiling, contemporary, linear, custom light fixtures are reflective of Prairie School architecture, the style of horizontal planes that originated in Chicago, says Sparks. Missoni leather-bound area rugs were placed over the reconditioned travertine floors.
To literally address Grodd’s “fabric” challenge, Sparks designed the millwork panels to subtly suggest the weave of the material the retailer had laid on the table and selected Bernhard Woodwork (Northbrook, Ill.) to produce them.
It was ultimately decided that a staircase from the site’s previous tenant, an Arden B retail space, could be retained to reinforce the townhouse concept. An initial thought to remove the staircase and design a new one was scuttled, says Sparks, because the timetable and budget didn’t allow for it. Besides, one of the trademarks of the Michigan Avenue store had been a sweeping staircase to the second floor. For this one, the handrails and ballustrade were refinished and the same Missoni rug was used as a runner on the stairs.
Despite the columns and 20-foot-width of the space, the store is open and inviting. “The smaller space is how we see the future of retailing,” says Jack Freedman, a member of the Paul Stuart executive committee. “There has to be a greater personal relationship between the brand and the customer, and this space focuses on the intimacy of that relationship.”
For example, notes Freedman, there are no transaction counters anywhere in the shop. “We want the merchandise, the customer and the salesperson all on the same side of the encounter,” he says. “We don’t want to separate them.”
For more on Paul Stuart’s Oak Street store, see page 53 of VMSD’s June issue, or click here.
Paul Stuart, New York: Jack Freedman, coo; Blake Johnson, general manager
Charles Sparks + Co., Westchester, Ill.: Charles Sparks, president and ceo; Don Stone, executive vp, account executive; Rachel Mikolajcyzk, resource studio director; Olivia Lindenmayer, documentations coordinator
Pepper Construction, Chicago
Outside Design Consultant
Bernhard Woodworking, Northbrook, Ill. (millworker)
Ombre, Evanston, Ill.
Mats Inc., Lisle, Ill.
Knoll Textiles, Chicago
Glen Raven Fabrics, Glen Raven, Ill.
Parkwood, Wheeling, Ill.
Benjamin Moore, Montvale, N.J.
Tiger Drylac Coatings, St. Charles, Ill.
Stone Source Midwest, Chicago
Koroseal Mid-West, Franklin Park, Ill.
R.S. Bacon Veneer, Burr Ridge, Ill.