Zara, New York

The international fashion brand unveils its biggest and boldest U.S. location to date.
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Posted June 4, 2012
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For most retailers, a handful of stores in New York would mark a strong presence in one of the world’s shopping capitals. But that wasn’t enough for Spanish fashion retailer Zara, which operated seven stores in New York until this past March, when the brand opened a new flagship that serves as an international icon.

More than $320 million changed hands last year to secure the site at 666 Fifth Avenue in the iconic Tishman building. The new location neighbors Uniqlo’s global flagship on one side and Hollister on the other.

Following a complete revamp of the space, the three-level, 32,000-square-foot store seeks to reinstate the pure modernism of the building’s exterior with a white-box-meets-fashion-runway interior.

“Because of its uniquely prestigious location and visual design, Zara’s new store has the makings of a global flagship,” says a Zara spokesperson.

The interior was created by Elsa Urquijo Architects, a firm from La Coruña, the Spanish city where Zara is based. The design gives Zara’s shopping environment more architectural character than was evident in its traditional retail format, says architect Elsa Urquijo. Practically, this means that the basement and first floor have long, thin aisles (dubbed “virtual catwalks” by the retailer) that lead from the front to the back of the shop. Off each of these aisles is a series of semi-discrete rooms that allow shoppers to make sense of this relatively narrow store, while providing an “interference-free interface with Zara’s products,” according to the retailer.

The store, in fact, follows a prototype designed by Elsa Urquijo Architects for a shopping center in La Coruña, where the same long lines draw shoppers deeper into the setting. In New York, this is possible thanks to lower-than-normal mid-floor fixturing and moving images on LED displays at the back of the store.

The lighting also helps. In place of the usual high levels of ambient light, the ground floor, for example, has narrow strips of built-in lights contained within a suspended ceiling and running from front to back. Each of the rooms off the catwalk is lit by small LED spots, putting the focus solely on the products rather than the store itself.

In other stores, “too often the shopper’s eye flits back and forth in an effort to scan too many items within her range of vision,” a Zara spokesperson says. “This new design prompts her to move intuitively from one compartment to the next.”

However, it’s the new materials palette that really marks this location as above-standard. Resin and striped aluminum are used for the fixtures and polished tile covers the flooring throughout the store.

However, there are some elements that are department specific, such as concrete and tactile glass surfaces in menswear on the second floor. The women’s department on the ground level, by contrast, gets an all-white appearance reinforced by glazed partitions with a layer of gauzy fabric.

“The idea is not simply to exhibit the clothing but also to create an environment that brings out the best in the collection by setting it against the right backdrop,” says Urquijo.

The building also makes an eco-statement, with 50 percent water savings and annual energy savings of 30 percent when compared to a similar-sized urban environment. Low-flow equipment is used in the bathrooms, while the energy savings are the result of a handful of innovative devices that are gradually being rolled out across Zara stores. In this store, these include motion sensors in the stockroom, which dim lighting by 80 percent when no one is present; lighting that is reduced by two-thirds when the store is being cleaned; and speed-controlled escalators, among other things.

While this Fifth Avenue store is the latest in a string of flagships across the globe, Zara says it’s one of a kind. As it stands, New York is the Spanish retail giant’s most up-to-date standard bearer.