ILLUMINATION TAILORED TO FIT MANHATTAN'S MOST STYLISH BOUTIQUES Competing in the New York retail market is the grand prix of merchandising. Gotham is the world's acknowledged shopping capital: Taking advantage of the city's chart-topping urban population density and a year-round flow of visitors, New York retailers are kept busy honing their competitive edge. No chance for promotional lapses here; there's always another store right behind you with a vested interest in aggressively luring your customers away. And that means that it takes world-class retail lighting to illuminate New York's world-class stores.
Each of Manhattan's important retail neighborhoods has its own personality, although in recent years the boundaries have tended to merge. Still the upscale leader is Madison Avenue from 55th Street north to 84th, where boutiques and shops, operated by companies from what seems like every developed country in the universe, line both sides of the street. Fifth Avenue from 49th Street (Saks Fifth Avenue's flagship store) to 60th Street is bustling again with gaggles of trendies patronizing new Gucci, Prada, and Fendi stores, while Gen-X and -Yers pour into H&M down the block (see "The Manhattan projects," page 60).
Soho, once an enclave of art galleries and one-of-a-kind specialty shops, now has its share of big-time Madison Avenue-type names and still some quirky individual proprietorships, mostly for home goods, gifts, and accessories. To the west is Tribeca, currently enjoying an adaptive reuse boom as former manufacturing buildings are being turned into pricey apartments.
In the Flatiron District, encompassing lower Fifth Avenue and Broadway between 14th and 23rd Streets, shoppers can outfit their home (at ABC Carpet & Home or Restoration Hardware) or themselves at such purveyors of fashion as J. Crew, Banana Republic, Zara, and Bebe. Bloomingdale's and Macy's, the behemoths of the city's shopping emporia with over two million sq. ft. (180,000 sq. m) each, are constantly undergoing makeovers to keep looking smart and snappy.
Owners of retail stores and showrooms understand the critical role that lighting plays in retail. Illuminating the merchandise so that customers can examine it in the most flattering light possible is one aspect; another is communicating the company's image to the design-savvy New York shopper. Here are four different ways that lighting designers provided solutions for merchandising and architectural situations: a large open space and high-end apparel at Nicole Farhi; a large open space and high-end crystal items at Steuben; a showroom for fragrances at Parfums Boucheron; and designer men's apparel and accessories in an elegant, dark wood-paneled environment at Sulka.
DAYS AND NIGHTS AT NICOLE FARHI Apparel designer Nicole Farhi and architect Michael Gabellini put their design concepts together for the opening of the sleek 20,000-sq.-ft. (1,860 sq. m) space at 10 East 60th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, that houses women's and men's apparel, the home collection, and Nicole's Restaurant and Bar.
The new store occupies what had once been the home of the legendary Copacabana nightclub, located in a circa-1901 Beaux Arts-style building, originally designed as a hotel. The ground floor held the main salons and public reception areas, and the lower level contained ballrooms and restaurants. When it became the Copa, the stage and restaurant were on the lower level which now houses Nicole's Restaurant in the front of the building and the men's and home collections in the rear.
Farhi and Gabellini agreed that the store should reflect the building's grandeur and notable lineage against a background that is a contemporary fusion of highly designed natural materials and cutting-edge technology. Together with lighting designer Ross Muir of Muirreality in New York, they set their strategy to utilize the inner store setting as a primary attraction from the street level through large windows that offer stunning views of the clothing store and the restaurant downstairs.
The result: a glowing, spacious environment that allows customers to interact with the merchandise on a personal, one-on-one basis. Nicole's Restaurant, which occupies one-third of the usable floor space, is a highly rated dining destination in its own right, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Both the restaurant and the store are served from a single doorman-attended entry. A glass-edged bridge spans two double-height atria with staircases descending on either side. The store's design presents different retailing points of view by avoiding the typical display on mannequins.
Farhi's apparel is displayed on ceiling-suspended hanging fixtures. Although they give the appearance of bamboo-like branches, they are strong enough to handle several dozen garments, including coats and other outerwear. Folded garments are presented in the center of the store on a custom "abacus" table. An enlarged and curved version of the centuries-old abacus, it is both light in appearance and tactile.
"Lighting is programmed to create different moods and environments throughout the store on a daily basis, and to complement the changing collections," says Ross Muir of the store's lighting system. "In the evening, when the retail store is closed, the lower level restaurant is bathed with a soft moonlight-like glow. Lamps for the custom-designed fixtures on the selling floor are adjusted to complement each season's colors and textures."
Warm and cool output lamps, Muir indicates, are mixed in a precise range to show off the collections to their best and most desirable advantage. He and Gabellini agree that the separation of the ambient and feature illumination follows the precept that retail is a form of theatre. "It's like lighting a dancer performing on a stage, where the drama of the movements is heightened by the spotlights and background lights. Nicole Farhi's is very much like a theatre, and the customers and the merchandise are the stars," architect Gabellini adds.
Downstairs, the restaurant's tour de force is the 25'-long (8m) Portuguese marble bar and informal dining counter that spans the room in an east/west direction. It contains 800' (244m) of white neon tubing that is shut off during the day so that the table seems opaque. In the evening, the 15 remote transformers are switched on and the marble glows with the hues of a tropical sunset.
STEUBEN'S INNER LIGHT A block away from Nicole Farhi is the new showcase for Steuben, long synonymous with fine crystal products. From the project's outset, Marie McKee, president and CEO of Steuben, impressed upon her design consultants two important concepts for the new 6,100-sq.-ft. (567 sq. m) retail showroom at 667 Madison Avenue.
To store designers Ralph Appelbaum Associates: "Make the store a showcase for Steuben's century-old heritage of hand-craftsmanship combined with modern technology and design." And to lighting designer Johnson Schwinghammer: "Remember that Steuben glass has a high lead composition and a special formula that was the first to allow the entire spectrum of light to pass through."
An open-plan 2,700-sq.-ft. (243 sq. m) main sales floor has a soaring, 23'-high (7m) ceiling; a circular mezzanine mounted on a slender support column symbolizes Steuben glass being formed; and a lower-level exhibition space, the Corning Gallery, has changing exhibits that are open to the public.
The main sales floor resembles an ever-changing exhibition. "The store is extraordinarily flexible," Mark A. Tamayo, Steuben's director of visual presentation, points out. "Its appearance can change in the same way that Steuben's crystal changes in different light."
Windows that are 38' wide by 25' high (12x8m) extend the store's urban presence and draw passersby to view its dramatic interior diorama. Hung from a concealed track are 20'-long (6m) translucent draperies that frame a semi-circular window display vignette.
Spaced throughout the main floor is a series of large circular tables. Several feature a built-in 40" plasma screen that shows Steuben-related video images. "Using the tables, the store's display designers can create tableaux of Steuben being used in a variety of settings," comments Appelbaum, who specializes in museum and exhibit design.
To the right of the main entrance is a wall-spanning double-shelf display of Steuben pieces shown against a dark blue suedecloth background. "Low-voltage, tightly focused halogen lamps allowed us to bring out the full spectrum of Steuben crystal," comments Jackson Ning II, project manager for lighting consultant Johnson Schwinghammer. "For the double shelf display, MR-16 12V 20W halogen spot GE lamps with a narrow 7 beam were built into the millwork.
"We found that when we focused on the crystal, the light appeared to explode outward," Ning continues. "Like prisms, the light is refracted around the Steuben products on display." Concealed top and bottom behind the shelf unit are strips of 12mm neon tubes with dimmable magnetic ballasts.
Ambient and concealed feature lighting are integrated into the architecture, Ning notes. Within the curtain ceiling coves are fixtures from Litelab containing low-voltage 50W AR-70 lamps and 2700K peach cosmetic color filters from Abrisa with a hex-cell louver for glare control. Perimeter coves have end-to-end-mounted double-row staggered fixtures from A&L Lighting containing 20,000-hour-rated T8 fluorescent strip lamps from Philips.
Recessed into the ceiling at the front of the store to illuminate the window area and the display vignette are low-voltage multiple-head accent fixtures from Modular International containing two 75W AR-111 lamps that are individually adjustable. Johnson Schwinghammer specified PAR-30 metal-halide lamps for Modular's recessed fixtures that are aimed at the video tables and other floor-mounted displays.
Above the dark blue suedecloth wall leading to the mezzanine are PAR-30 and AR-111 lamps. The 900-sq.-ft. (81 sq. m) mezzanine provides a relaxed setting, somewhat removed from the activity of the main floor, where major Steuben art glass pieces are displayed. The mezzanine "dish" is ringed at the floor level by an array of color-changing 36"-long programmable high-output LED color wash strips with remotely located low-voltage power supply. Acrylic diffusers and optically clear structural glass cover the cavity into which the strips are installed.
Pook Diemont & Ohl, a Bronx, NY, design and contracting firm for theatres, soundstages, and architectural installations, has recently become more active in the retail field. Irene Byrne-Ohl, principal, reports that PDO was called in by the general contractors to contribute to both Steuben and Nicole Farhi. For the backdrop curtains in the Steuben window, PDO used extruded aluminum tracks from Automated Devices Company, Allentown, PA, and then bent the tracks and added custom hardware at their shop before installation. At Nicole Farhi, PDO custom-built a motorized piece of strut that acts as a batten to fit into a narrow 3"-wide (7.6cm) pocket above the window. It is controlled electronically to raise and lower the lines that float the mannequins so that the clothing on the form can be easily changed by the Farhi staff.
SCENTS AND SENSIBILITY Founded in France in 1858 with its flagship store on the Place Vendome in Paris, the world's capital for high-end jewelry, Boucheron has a long-established heritage as an international luxury jeweler and watchmaker. The company built on its reputation for high quality and exclusivity by expanding into luxury fragrances in 1988 with its fragrance line, Boucheron and Jaipur, which are strongly identified with its jewelry creations. In May, Gucci Group acquired Boucheron International, with annual revenues of $85 million, and intends to expand its retail footprint in key luxury goods markets globally.
At the New York showroom and corporate offices where Parfums Boucheron products are presented to fragrance merchandisers, Lucifer Lighting Shelf Lights and Puklights illuminate glass shelving and cabinetry where the perfume bottles are on display. In wall niches behind the receptionist's station are oversized reproductions of bottles lit by the palm-size Puklight fixture which measures slightly over 1" in depth. Lucifer president Gilbert Lang Mathews describes it as "a compact, lightweight, low-voltage halogen downlight featuring a twist-on glass lens, created for limited spaces."
Regular-sized samples of the line are shown within a tall, pale-wood glass-front double-door wall cabinet. Inside, Lucifer's Shelf Light emphasizes the sparkle of the glass shelves and the sculptural bottles. Mathews recommended the Shelf Light for its ease of installation and flexibility. "A thin, ribbon-like conductor allows for a stream of 12V along the perimeter of the glass shelf," he explains. "With an adjustable lampholder affixed with a retention clamp device, 20W MR-11 quartz halogen lamps can be positioned at any point along the edge of the shelf."
SOPHISTICATED SULKA Dallas-based Robert Young Associates (RYA) has served as store planners and designers for Sulka stores around the world. One of the long-running recognized names for top-tier men's apparel and accessories, Sulka caters to a loyal clientele in quietly elegant surroundings. "Details and furnishings have a continental and luxury tone," notes Mike Wilkins, RYA creative director.
When its New York store relocated to a 6,700-sq.-ft. (623 sq. m) space in the Westbury on Madison Avenue, RYA collaborated with Bill Schwinghammer of Johnson Schwinghammer to create a distinctive setting for Sulka. Contemporary custom wood display fixtures feature built-in illumination calibrated to add sales-influencing appeal to the merchandise.
The ground-level selling floor is divided into a series of rooms visible from the street. An oval stair leads to the larger selling floor above, also divided into a series of rooms. Sulka's tie collection is displayed in a library-like setting.
"Men's suits shown in a wall case require lighting inside the casework," Schwinghammer advises. "The merchandise itself is dark and it is impossible to light it adequately from the ceiling alone. Without striplighting inside the casework, customers can't really examine the merchandise, and the whole store feels heavy." His solution was installation of fixtures from A&L Lighting fitted with Philips T5 fluorescent 3000K lamps with remote ballasts. Color filters were added "to warm up the traditional merchandise and bring out the warmth of the wood."
Sulka's show windows glow with light beamed on the mannequins from Modular's recessed eight-lamp accent fixture holding Osram Sylvania's 50W 12V halogen AR-111 spots. Uplights from Artemus are fitted with 10W halogen T3 clear lamps, also from Osram Sylvania. Accent lighting in the selling areas emanates from recessed ceiling slots containing Modular's three-lamp adjustable fixtures and MR-16 flood and spot lamps from GE. On the main floor, Schwinghammer selected Starfire fixtures in 4' and 5' lengths combined with Starfire's 5W xenon frosted 24V lamps.
Sulka's interior design was recognized by a citation of excellence awarded by the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers. To designers creating environments for retail men's apparel clients, Schwinghammer offers valuable advice to prevent on-site installation delays. "It's very important that the millworker producing such items as built-in wall cases uses an electrician who will install the lighting to UL standards," he indicates. "These items are some of the last pieces to go into a store. If the municipal inspector won't approve the built-in lighting, it can cause significant delays in getting the store open."
New York stores point the design direction for retail establishments in other locales. Concepts are adapted to fit local and regional markets. From the often vernacular lighting in storefront boutiques on the Lower East Side, to the sophisticated systems in place uptown, New York stores are a lively palette of today's trends in retail lighting.