In the 1980s, sunglasses were all about wayfarers and aviators. (Thank you, Tom Cruise.) In the ‘90s, the grunge movement brought hippie, Lennon-style shades back into fashion. Today, sunglasses are the “it” accessory and it’s all about glamour and high-fashion.
“The [eye] temple is now the de facto place to store your bling,” says Christian Davies, vp, managing creative director, specialty brands at FRCH Design Worldwide in Cincinnati. “People want that ‘CC’ on their ear piece.”
But Sunglass Hut, the 1500-store chain owned by parent company Luxottica Group S.p.A. (Milan, Italy), was stuck in the past, with that 25-year-old “Top Gun” flyboy. They were missing the woman behind the high-fashion frames. “The emphasis is on sunglasses as a fashion accessory and owning multiple pairs for different looks, especially for women,” says Nadine King, Luxottica’s design manager, branded environments.
To capitalize on this latest fashion trend, Sunglass Hut decided it needed to rebrand not only its image, but also its store environment.
An Eye on the Process
This was the first time the company had ever gone to such lengths to introduce a new concept. Its challenges were considerable: creating a more fashion-forward store environment that appealed to both men and women; creating a place that encouraged customers to seek out their personal expression; and doing it all in just six months, from start to finish, turning their ideas into a working prototype that could be rolled out across the globe into Sunglass Hut’s disparate real estate portfolio, which includes everything from airport kiosks to malls to freestanding stores.
Beginning in August 2006, designers from FRCH and Sunglass Hut began brainstorming, studying nightclubs, hotels and bars where the new target customer would likely be hanging out. Out of this exercise, Davies said ideas for a sexier and more dramatic store environment began to emerge.
By September, designers were focusing on a materials palette to visually express these concepts. Mirrored surfaces, playing off the image of disco balls, and contrasting black and white surfaces, suggesting polarity and drama, slowly began to transform the concept. After two months, designers were ready to start creating a visual tool kit. FRCH consulted with Focus Lighting & Associates (Cincinnati) on using lighting to add more drama to the space, set aglow with chrome and other shiny surfaces. The company also experimented with signage and graphics programs that could accommodate different vendor and seasonal campaigns. In development at the same time was Sunglass Hut’s new brand position.
Once all of these pieces were in place, the team developed a full-scale store prototype at Luxottica’s U.S. headquarters in Mason, Ohio. The model was completed in January. Less than a month later, following a few tweaks to the signage program and visual displays, the prototype debuted in Reading, U.K.
House of Glasses
“The new format says, ‘Take your time, try on as many pairs as you want, uncover your cool,’ ” says Davies.
Right at the dramatic entryway, a block pattern of white porcelain tile contrasts with a reflective stainless-steel mosaic. The storefront window display and off-center entrance are outlined in black. To grab shoppers’ attention, designers created a window space that can accommodate several story-telling elements, including graphics, window appliqués and suspended LCD screens, depending on that month’s focus.
Inside the store, Sunglass Hut ramped up the message that it’s the place for high-end luxury brands, such as Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, by creating a display program that highlights the fashion aspect of the product while presenting it in an open-sell format.
“We pulled a lot of ideas from the way cosmetics are sold and marketed,” says King, including giving customers multiple opportunities to try on and experiment with the product.
Modular display towers in varying heights, dubbed the “go-go fixtures,” offer a high-end fashion presentation for eyewear. “The go-gos move, they tell different stories and they can be dressed up with different graphics programs,” says King. “They’re always changing outfits.”
Around the perimeter, light and dark walls contrast stylishly, creating “a level of excitement without being distracting,” she says.
Reflecting a more European way of merchandising, designers replaced the old hardware with a glass-shelf presentation that allows the shades to be displayed at different angles, showcasing the various styles and that all-important temple bling.
And whereas the old store format included lots of locked cabinets and closed display cases, creating several stopping points within the shopping experience, the new Sunglass Hut focuses on putting the product right out there for shoppers to try-on and experience.
“The product is so touchable and has lots of fun details,” says King. “People can’t resist trying it on.”
Tim Smith, FRCH’s director of graphic design, says it was critical to integrate the graphics into the store environment so that they felt seamless within the high-fashion space.
Using tools as simple as paper and vinyl, Smith showed Sunglass Hut how different types of signage programs, including hanging graphics, backlit colored panels and mirrored stencils, could transform the store’s personality from one season or brand campaign to the next. “It’s a holistic experience,” he says.
A sky box hanging above the store center can also use colored lighting and graphics to tie in with current campaigns or remain a neutral ceiling element that anchors the store.
Perhaps the most eye-catching display element is the mirror band that wraps around the store walls, giving customers plenty of opportunities to toss on a pair of shades and immediately see if it’s the right choice. Full-length mirrors also give customers another chance to make sure they’re getting the look they want.
FRCH designed several levels of the store concept for rollout to Sunglass Hut’s 1500 locations, including flagship, value-engineered and low-cost versions.
“The environment creates a frame of mind that says, ‘It’s okay to think up,’ ” says Smith. “You’re made to feel like you want to capitalize on this experience.”
Client: Luxottica Retail/ Sunglass Hut, Mason, Ohio – Jill Widmer, vp, brand marketing; Bink Zengel, senior director, branded environments; Nadine King, design manager, branded environments; Lita Caldwell, associate design manager, branded environments; Peggy Colvin, signage and graphics manager, branded environments; David McCoy, associate marketing manager, branded environments; Frank Robertshaw, director, special projects; Jeff Renner, project manager, special projects
Design: FRCH Design Worldwide, Cincinnati – Christian Davies, vp, managing creative director, specialty brands; Monica Gerhardt, vp, account manager; Robyn Novak, senior interior designer; Cathleen Coleman, interior designer; Tim Smith, director, graphic design; Greg Smith, graphic designer; Christie Kratzer, senior resource design; Lori Kolthoff, director, resource design; Claire Collier, interior designer
Architect: Michael Schuster & Associates, Cincinnati – Michael Schuster, principal; Nestor Melnyk, principal; Tony Scally, project manager; Amy Benetti, project designer; Bryan Cody, project designer
General Contractor: James Hunt Construction, Cincinnati
Outside Design Consultants: Big Red Rooster, Columbus, Ohio (merchandising tools); Gus Perdikakis Associates Inc. (GPA), Mason, Ohio (project management); Turner Construction, Cincinnati (project management)
Audio: Muzak LLC, Ft. Mill, S.C.
Ceilings: Moss, Belfast, Maine
Fixtures: Bruewer Woodworking, Cleves, Ohio; JP Metal America Inc., Montreal
Flooring/Storefront Tile: Stone Source, Somerville, Maine
Furniture: Allemuir, Livonia, Mich.
Lighting: Focus Lighting & Associates, Cincinnati
Props and Decoratives: JP Metal America Inc., Montreal; Matrix Fixtures Inc., Hastings on Hudson, N.Y.
Sales Organizational Tools: ColorBrite Fabric & Display, Cincinnati
Signage/Graphics: General Theming Contractors, Columbus, Ohio
Special Finish on Visual Tools: Coating Systems Inc., Cincinnati
Wallcoverings and Materials: Arpa Laminate, Wheeling, Ill.; Edelman Leather, New Milford, Conn.; Decorative Films, Solyx, Md.
Photographer: Mark Steele Photography Inc., Columbus, Ohio