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A New ‘Museum’ Lands in Manhattan

How one new flagship is differentiating its experience




I found myself on New York’s Fifth Avenue one evening recently and, attracted by the pink hues of a façade’s glowing upper stories, decided to tour the newly opened Victoria’s Secret flagship store at 640 Fifth Ave. For the most part, the store interior resembles the brand’s other flagships such as the Herald Square store or the Michigan Avenue store in Chicago, albeit with the digital display quotient dialed way up. But what I found here that I haven’t seen elsewhere is the Angel Museum on its uppermost floor.

I first encountered the use of museum-like spaces incorporated into retail flagships while in Tokyo back in 2008. I recall consciously making the trek to the top levels of Dior and Gucci (both flagships in the Ginza district) and walking through the displays of their respective brand histories. These museum spaces gave the brands, both rich in heritage, the opportunity to tell their stories to a new audience, to share the authenticity of their craft and to imbue the visitor with a level of respect for the value that the brand has to offer.

So when I discovered that this Victoria’s Secret flagship had a museum on its upper floor, I went to check it out. To my dismay, the first impression, as I alighted from the last step, was somewhat confusing, as there was no grand gesture to herald my arrival at such an auspicious part of the store. The arrival point should reward the visitor for making the journey up three flights of winding stairs while surrounded by beveled reflective surfaces and supersized models in lingerie flashing across massive LCD screens from which tremendous heat was emanating. Instead, I had to look around to assess what I had come upon, and to confirm this was an area truly intended to be accessible to the public, as there was no greeter there to direct me or inform me of the museum’s mission and no effective signage to do the same.

But once I wandered deeper onto the floor, I figured it out. The displays were actually quite thoughtful and seemed to strive to connect the visitor with the design process surrounding the creation of the fantastic costumes that are fashioned expressly for the brand’s annual runway extravaganza. Actual sketches and fabric swatches were paired alongside mannequins sporting the manifestation of the designer’s vision. There was even the representation of a design studio in a life-size diorama at the back of the floor, inviting the visitor to become part of the process.

As one exits, there is a large framed directory of “every model who has ever walked ‘The Show,’ ” and the glass protecting the directory is signed in silver ink by many of them. This modest gesture of recognition, located at the very end of this celebratory exhibition, felt like a bit of a contradiction. The entire contents of this museum are so wholly disassociated with the women who are the Victoria’s Secret Angels – the women who bring this fantasy to life. But the exhibition itself, while so totally different from what you would find at Gucci or Dior, instilled in me a greater respect for what the brand attempts to achieve and the process through which it strives to achieve their goals.

Kathleen Jordan, AIA, CID, LEED AP, is a principal in Gensler’s New York office, and a leader of its retail practice with over 24 years of experience across the United States and internationally. Jordan has led a broad range of retail design projects as both an outside consultant and as an in-house designer. She has led projects from merchandising and design development all the way through construction documentation and administration, and many of her projects have earned national and international design awards. Contact her at






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HOW CAN WE EMPOWER and inspire senior leaders to see design as an investment for future retail growth? This session, led by retail design expert Ian Johnston from Quinine Design, explores how physical stores remain unmatched in the ability to build trust, faith, and loyalty with your customers, ultimately driving shareholder value.

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