How do you shine a new light on a legendary symbol of beauty? Not just any symbol, but one that represents an extensive line of products that embodies style, glamour, and panache worldwide?
This icon is Elizabeth Arden, and the project is to redesign the exterior, foyer, and first-floor retail store of the company's high-profile Fifth Avenue location in New York City. This is the flagship of the "Red Door" symbol that appears on packaging and labels. The real red door at 691 Fifth Avenue is 9' (3m) high, and dominates the store's 13'-wide (4m) facade.
The team that was to match Arden's scrupulously cultivated image with an elegantly contemporary upscale store was led by design architects and interior store planners Jon Greenberg & Associates Inc. (JGA) of Southfield, MI. The lighting consultant was Gary Steffy Lighting Design Inc. of Ann Arbor, MI. Keeping to a four-month construction timetable, the renovation was completed in the fall of 1997.
Elizabeth Arden Co. has been on the makeup and skin treatment scene since 1910. The company was founded by Arden, a strikingly handsome woman who championed a fresh, natural look and high-quality products. Now owned by Unilever United States Inc., Arden's estimated 1997 sales were $690 million.
Kenneth E. Nisch, JGA's chairman, and image consultant Mac Cato of London-based Cato Consulting Group guided Arden's management through a phased position-evaluating process to arrive at a consensus on which to base the actual design. "We had to reconnect the myth and spirit of Elizabeth Arden," explains Nisch. "The style and substance had to recreate the world she came from."
Nisch described the 1920s building as an important commercial structure of the period, utilizing marble, bronze, and copper leaf. Arden at one time occupied the entire first floor until the 1960s, when a Gucci store moved into a corner of the building, leaving just 13' (4m) for Arden's Fifth Avenue frontage. Architect Nisch and his team had to visually communicate a grand and elegant statement for their famous client within these narrow parameters.
Nisch and Gary Woodall (IALD), senior designer at Gary Steffy Lighting Design, agreed that the long, narrow space should have a residential feel and create a sense of airiness, in contrast to bustling Fifth Avenue visible beyond the front show window. The concept for the 1,500-sq.-ft. (135 sq. m) store was to give the impression of a "street of shops" to customers who enter the building to purchase products in the store or have appointments in the salon or spa on the upper floors. (Clodagh was the designer of the salon and spa.)
Taking full advantage of the 20' (6m) ceilings, the glazing at the front extends the full height and width of the building's first floor. The window's side mullions and bronze trim link this level architecturally with the four floors above, and frame the signature red door. Lighting for the storefront window is provided by a bus-bar track supporting 30W PAR-20 metal-halide spot lamps (track and track luminaires by Litelab). Additional lighting at the storefront is provided by low-voltage MR-16 luminaires mounted at both the top and bottom of the window to provide a grazing washlight with minimal glare to pedestrians.
"Our challenge was to keep the lighting for the six planes of the envelope--floors, ceilings, and walls--as clean as possible," says the LD. To enhance the architecture and focus attention on the merchandise displays, Woodall specified fixtures that use the latest lamp technology with the smallest available light sources.
A key element in creating a cohesive whole from front to back was highlighting the overhead barrel vault, long hidden from view by a dropped ceiling. JGA's technique to visually enlarge the space creates a borderless, soft-edged meeting at the ceiling line. "There is no clear definition where the ceilings and walls come together," says Woodall. Floor, walls, and ceiling have the same tonality. Merchandise display fixtures are limed oak with a light finish, contributing to the residential mood of the space. Floor material is honed limestone with polished highlights. "It's important for Arden, a company that is selling beauty products and skin care treatments--particularly in its own boutique--to showcase them in a distinctive and motivating setting," Nisch points out.
To light up the ceiling and the wall behind the freestanding display cases, linear fluorescent luminaires by Specialty Lighting are used with Philips T5 fluorescent lamps. "These luminaires use a combination of a reflector and prismatic lens in an extruded aluminum housing only 3" wide by 2" high to provide a very uniform wash of light," Woodall says.
Gently curved display fixtures and cabinets fit between architectural piers, creating niches for the various product presentations. A uniform diffused glow of light within built-in etched glass vitrines is provided by a combination of both straight T8 and 50W compact fluorescent lamps mounted to custom vertical strips from Specialty Lighting. These are located behind the solid vertical supports, illuminating the glass cubes and washing the white-painted architectural wall.
"We wanted to produce a uniform glow so that light seems to come from all directions," Woodall explains. With JGA, a detail was implemented that makes the glass vitrines seem to float away from the supporting architectural wall. Custom strips that extend from floor to ceiling act as vertical dividers between each section of shelf, enabling the designers to light the architectural wall uniformly and introduce direct light into the etched glass that makes up shelving units.
For large feature displays between the glass vitrines, an extruded channel luminaire by Specialty Lighting uses a combination of 20W MR-16 narrow flood lamps with glass spread lenses on both side walls and the top of each display to provide a uniform wash within a very shallow detail. Feature accent lighting and additional ambient lighting in the store is provided by Specialty Lighting's recessed fixture, providing three individually adjustable 42W MR-16 VNSP lamps or 35W MR-16 flood lamps. "Each lamp is aimed on a makeup table or featured display, so we do not have to install separate apertures for each lamp," Woodall points out.
JGA's color scheme revolves around gold, black, and white, referencing Arden's product palette. Black frames the show window and appears in the header over the foyer. The armless chairs used for customer consultations and makeovers can take slipcovers in red, white, or black that can be changed depending on the current promotional theme or the season of the year.
At the rear of the store, a transition zone flows from the treatment area to the brilliant Arden red-lacquer foyer and elevator lobby leading to the salon upstairs. Here, hand-lettered quotes about fashion and beauty from Elizabeth Arden and friends such as Coco Chanel are incised into corner walls. They form the backdrop for a custom circular area rug and hassock.
The contrast from airy, light front room to the drama of the glossy-walled elevator lobby is a high-fashion statement about Arden's own individualistic approach to style. It also raises the expectation of the personalized beauty services offered in the salon and spa. Vintage and current framed Arden advertising photos decorate the elevator lobby. Lighting the glossy red walls is a continuous channel using 35W PAR-20 wide flood lamps spaced 6" on-center and separated by black metal baffles. Above the opening leading from the elevator lobby to the store are spots placed between baffles.
Nisch says the client is very pleased with the store's design. "The space reads as a cohesive whole," he adds. It is, in effect, a high-profile showcase for the legendary Elizabeth Arden's trendsetting philosophy of beauty, and the company's current image and marketing thrust.
Vilma Barr is a New York-based writer specializing in design and merchandising.
Architecture and store planning and design Jon Greenberg & Associates Kenneth J. Nisch, chairman
Lighting consultant Gary Steffy Lighting Design Inc. Gary Woodall, IALD, senior designer
Associated architects WJCA Inc., William Commer, president
Image consultant Cato Consulting Group
General contractor Plaza Construction
Millwork Hird/Blaker Inc.
Display fixtures Ledan Inc.
Lighting supplier Chelsea Lighting
Lighting equipment manufacturers Lightolier, LiteLab, Philips, Specialty Lighting