Uniqlo, New York

The Japanese specialty retail giant has landed a starship and planted its flag on Fifth Avenue
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Posted November 30, 2011
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Uniqlo knew that its new Manhattan store was more than a window to Fifth Avenue. The Japanese specialty retailer calls this “global flagship” store its “window to the world.”

Designer and architect Masamichi Katayama, founder of Wonderwall, the Tokyo-based design firm that has worked with Uniqlo since 2006, got the message: The Fifth Avenue location at the epicenter of retail’s most venerable thoroughfare had to be special.

Katayama believes effective store design begins with maximizing the potential of whatever footprint you’re given. Thus, in this location, the emphasis is on a huge third floor at the expense of much smaller first and second levels. His other essential is that the store serves as a tool of communication. And in that respect, this store does not stop chattering.

The conversation begins before you even enter the 89,000-square-foot flagship at 53rd Street (the retailer’s largest store). Passersby are immediately engaged by the building’s glass façade and enticing view into three floors of clean, futuristic retail space.

The transition from the street into the store is grand – a cavernous, three-story-high space carved into the structural skeleton of the building. Beams were removed and reinforcing plates installed to produce the desired grandiose effect.

A soaring escalator leads directly from the entrance to the third floor. It may seem more reminiscent of an international arrivals building at an airport hub, but the space and its escalator are appropriate for Uniqlo’s ambitious global reach.

Both sides of the escalator are guarded by a sentinel of five spinning mannequins that follow customers all the way up. At the landing, a grouping of 18 mannequins sets the tone for the excitement on the huge upper level. In fact, more than 350 mannequins and forms are used throughout the store. Some are strategically positioned with matte finishes and stand straight, like modern-day Greek caryatids. Others with glossy, translucent finishes applied over a raw mannequin bring attitude and color to the selling floor.
At the landing, a turn to the left leads through a futuristic tunnel connecting two areas of the store, complete with moving LCD signage, a reflective ceiling and another parade of mannequins. Two turns to the right, a glass-enclosed bridge crosses the escalator well, joining the two sections of the third floor that flank the escalator. The bridge is lined with a rainbow brigade of yellow, blue, green, orange and pink mannequins.

While the third floor is huge, its ceilings are low. The contrast with the cathedral-like effect of the entry creates an intimacy that focuses attention on the merchandise rather than the architecture. But that’s not to say the merchandising is mundane. For example, perimeter walls feature color blocking and flexible shelving units with swiveling waterfall arms. Merchandise stories are told on double-tiered, rounded tables.

Product is folded on each shelf, while high-gloss mannequin groupings offer lifestyle presentations on top.
From the third floor, traffic flow back to the second and first floors is supported by elevators and illuminated color-changing stairs. There is no wasted space – the expanse under the escalators is a common area used for events and social interaction.

Some 300 LED screens are positioned on columns, walls and behind cashwrap centers, digitally displaying current ad campaigns and new arrivals. They also feature “Uniqlo’s voices of New York,” a campaign that shows images of New Yorkers wearing Uniqlo merchandise along with quotes from brand devotees, including Susan Sarandon and Laura Linney.

The design strategy is supported by savvy marketing, a well-trained sales staff and commitment to customer service. (There are 100 fitting rooms and 50 cash registers.)
A revitalization is happening on Fifth Avenue, and Uniqlo’s innovative and futuristic store design is an important part of that new landscape.

For a virtual tour of the space, click here.

Project Suppliers

Retailer: Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., Yamaguchi, Japan

Design: Wonderwall Inc., Tokyo

Architect: Gensler, New York

Audio/Visual: PlayNetwork, Redmond, Wash.

Fixtures: Okamura Corp., Yokohama, Japan

Lighting: LIDO Lighting, Deer Park, N.Y.

Mannequins and Forms: CNL Mannequins, Buena Park, Calif.; Universal Display & Design Inc., New York; Adel Rootstein Inc., New York

Signage and Graphics: L&M Architectural Graphics Inc., Fairfield, N.J.

Flooring: Bo&Co, Japan

Wallcoverings and Materials: Legele,  New York

General Contractor: Structure Tone Inc. New York