Last August 30, Aerosoles packed up the last of its former Soho flagship, leaving behind 2200 square feet of raw space. The next morning, the White House|Black Market (WH|BM) Construction, Planning and Visual teams started work on transforming this shell into a chic pop-up worthy of the brand. They had all of six working days (given the Labor Day holiday) to make magic happen. “We didn’t even have the construction permit or the Landmarks approval,” says Johnson. “And, all of the work had to take place between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. because of an agreement with the residential tenant upstairs.”
Being fashionably late was not an option. WH|BM had to open its doors September 10—the date for the city-wide Fashion’s Night Out and the kick-off for Fashion Week as well as the launch period for the fashion retailer’s national fall marketing campaign. Thanks to intensive preplanning and close collaboration with manufacturers throughout the design and installation the space was red-carpet ready on a fast-fashion deadline.
Big Branding in a Small Space
From the outset, WH|BM had a clear vision of the challenges and opportunities of the location. “To keep the brand aesthetic intact, we concentrated on cleaning up the space as much as possible and incorporating select, iconic pieces from our premier store environments,” says Victor Johnson, WH|BM’s director of store environment. That included signature WH|BM elements such as dramatic crystal chandeliers; a mixture of contemporary and antique fixtures and furniture; showcases featuring national advertising and, of course, the black-and-white stripes that show up in a variety of materials and configurations.
One element Johnson couldn’t borrow from permanent stores was a luxurious footprint. “Most of our design decisions were driven by the non-negotiable physical parameters,” Johnson says. The small sales floor meant only an “edited” merchandise assortment and a limited number of sizes could be displayed. “We anticipated that a great deal of selling would take place in the fitting room lounge, since sizes would need to be pulled from the stockroom,” says Johnson. “Since lower Broadway is dense with foot traffic, we tried to accommodate as many fitting rooms as possible to make the store feel comfortable and special for as many customers as possible.”
Major construction was out of the question on such a tight time frame. Instead, WH|BM’s designers had the walls and entire ceiling in the fitting room area painted black. “We wanted to disguise the shell of the room in a sea of darkness so we even painted over the existing fluorescent fixtures,” says Johnson. Track lighting mounted directly to the acoustical tile ceiling was introduced to provide functional lighting, while a chandelier was installed “for atmosphere.”
WH|BM worked with visual merchandising company Circle Visual and Fleetwood Fixtures to create an innovative drapery system around the perimeter of the fitting area to mask the harshness of the interior box. Departmental executives from the company’s parent, Chico’s FAS, had held preliminary meetings with Circle Visual in mid-August to select fabrics and discuss sewing options for the pop-up store. That gave the company only two-and-a-half weeks to deliver a number of tailored elements including more than 400 yards of custom-printed striped fabric (with flame retardant and soil release treatments) to be sewn into perimeter panels and dressing room curtains, points out Jacqueline Gutierrez, vp business operations for Circle Visual. “It was especially challenging since the fixtures were still in the fabrication stage and were not going to be on-site for proper measurements until the day before the store opening,” Gutierrez adds.
The floor plan gave Circle Visual’s team enough information to estimate the widths and lengths for the custom-printed black stripes on ivory Mystique Satin that would be used for the perimeter and fitting rooms. “To speed things along in the tight time frame, we worked directly with Fleetwood and suggested that they send us a full-size fitting room fixture in order to obtain precise measurements and test out our construction suggestions,” Gutierrez adds. It arrived on August 26. “We assembled it in our showroom, evaluated it and found that our initial ideas for creating this kind of solution [and our quote] were right on.”
As with any project, the Soho pop-up required some last-minute R&D. Circle Visual reconfigured a central ottoman from a 60-inch diameter to 56 inches since only five marketing yards of the black and white floral weave Chico’s executives selected was available. “Rather than turning down the request, we offered a compromise that yielded the same aesthetic,” says Gutierrez.
On September 3, the design team asked that a red cushion be reupholstered. “We received it on the 4th, but opted to make an entirely new cushion covered in black cotton velvet. We had it back to WH|BM on the 8th,” says Gutierrez. “We hand-delivered the curtains to the store and assisted the Logistics team understand with the installation the day before the store opened.”
Johnson says close collaboration with both vendors and other departments within WH|BM were integral to getting the job done. “The project required an enormous amount of cross-functional partnerships at WH|BM. It brought together visual, real estate, purchasing, marketing, construction, facilities, allocation, logistics and more. This pop-up is really a testament to what we are able to achieve as a brand,” Johnson adds.
From Pop-up to Permanent Store
Despite the intensity of the design and installation, Johnson says WH|BM took advantage of the spontaneity of the pop-up concept to experiment with the big picture of visual merchandising and display. “For example, the Soho shop became a laboratory of technology and cross-channel marketing into our typical store environment,” he says. Without a lot of space to show off products, WH|BM set up four Mac computers and invited shoppers to view the brand’s full merchandise offer online. Terminals also could be used to join the retailer’s Facebook page. A large flat-screen TV at the back of the plays a continuous loop of behind-the-scenes footage from WH|BM’s mailer and look-book photo sessions.
This elegant little pop-up boutique will be open through New Year’s. Then it begins its transition into a permanent WH|BM location. “A lot of the things we did initially were functional, but the end result turned out to be quite dramatic,” says Johnson.