What happens when you cross a retail environment with a nightclub? You get Torrid, an innovative women's clothing store that eschews the ordinary. It's a vision of what could happen if a trendy New Orleans club just happened to start selling platform boots, glitter-covered thongs, and leather pants.

Torrid came about as a request from patrons of the store’s parent company, Hot Topic, based in City of Industry, CA. Larger-sized women wanted the trendy clothes that could be found at Hot Topic, and when enough requests started to come through, Torrid was born. JGA of Southfield, MI, the retail design/architectural firm that designed Hot Topic, was retained to define the look of this new venture.

JGA did a number of detailed design boards and a general look was determined, then Gary Steffy Lighting Design Inc. of Ann Arbor, MI, was brought on board. "When we became involved in the project, the client and JGA definitely had a program well developed," notes Gary Steffy, LC, FIALD. JGA's design staff, headed by chairman Ken Nisch, had come up with a fairly detailed idea of what needed to be done to create the Torrid vision. "The ideas were, of course, to light the merchandise, but also to do it in a high drama sort of way," Steffy says. JGA's detailed design boards were the focal point of the project. "The design boards do help us cut to the chase and we don't end up spinning wheels," he notes. Steffy, who has worked with JGA on several projects, says he maintains an excellent relationship with the design staff: "Of course, JGA is looking for us to come forward if we think we have a brilliant idea that may actually be out of the box that they didn't talk about--it's certainly not a close-minded operation." However, before the LD started on the plot, JGA and the client worked out numerous details: "They knew where they wanted to put merchandise, they knew where the gondolas were going to go, so it was fairly straightforward."

In most circumstances, one would think that the easiest way to create a trendy lounge atmosphere would be to use club lighting instruments. That wasn't Steffy's approach, however. "We definitely used more architectural instruments, and one reason we did so was the energy issue," he comments. "Energy bubbled to the top of this job pretty quickly because the prototype and the first series of stores were to be in California, which has Title 24," which stringently governs energy usage. Steffy had his first experience with Title 24 in the mid-90s, when he worked on the retail project Giorgio Beverly Hills. "When we did Giorgio, back in 1995, Title 24 allowed us something like 2.7W/sq. ft.," he says. "In the last several years, they've whittled it down considerably." However, he adds, working with Title 24 can be a positive experience: "What they're doing in California is recognizing that these energy-efficient sources are available, and they're just making sure that they're used." In the end, Torrid's energy usage came in at just about 2W/sq. ft., which is within Title 24, as well as the current ASHRAE/IESNA recommendations.

With the energy issue hanging over his head, Steffy chose one of the workhorses from his stable of lamps--ceramic metal-halides. "These are, at least in my bag of tricks, the light source to use when you're looking for efficient, long-life accent lighting," he says. "Their color rendering ranges from 82 to 85 and you'd be quite hard-pressed to tell that it's ceramic metal-halide and not quartz halogen." Working with the metal-halides are compact fluorescents, which are also 3000K, as well as low-wattage incandescent lamps that are used in the chandeliers.

Then, to create a retail environment that had a dramatic flair, Steffy eliminated a retail standard--overhead ambient light. "This is a store that was not going to have an overall "fluff," or ambiance, of light. It wasn't supposed to look like a grocery store, or a Marshall Fields," he says. "It's actually supposed to be clubby, or lounge-like." So the LD and his team turned to a different retail staple--accent lights mounted on tracks. "We chose to primarily use accent lighting to keep the clubby mood. We definitely wanted high drama and, given our power budget, there weren't a lot of options." The overhead lighting is divided into two areas--the front of the store has recessed ceramic metal-halides in a decorative metal ceiling, while the rest of the store has a black ceiling with a grid underneath it. "The accent instruments are mounted to track, and that track is mounted above grid, at a trim of about 13'6"," he explains. Overall, Torrid measures approximately 25' wide and 80' long, with most of the track running lengthwise with the store, at about 4-5' away from the side walls. "From that track, you can light the wall and you can light into the store about 4-5' into the merchandise," comments Steffy. "We also have track that runs crosswise and that's spaced down the middle so we could pick up merchandise and gondolas in the middle of the store," he adds.

Working alongside Steffy's Philips ceramic metal-halides are a handful of compact fluorescent fixtures. "There's also a layer of compact fluorescent downlights--very few of them, actually--but we did use them to get maybe 5-7fc of 'stumble lighting' throughout the store," Steffy explains.

Rounding out the lighting picture are several chandelier-like pendants. "Very early on, the interior designer had a concept for some decorative chandeliers," says Steffy, "and these were to be located near the back of the store. The intention was to excite you visually and draw you into the store." There are a total of 11 of these units, provided by Global Lighting of Irvington, NY, and Artemide of Farmingdale, NY. "The fittings are mostly blown glass; some of it is colored, and the shapes are very voluptuous," he adds. Inside the chandelier pendants are long-life incandescent lamps from GE. "We used very low wattage--34W, 130V incandescent lamps--they're just standard household A-lamps. We used the 130V version which, when you put it in a 120V socket, will last about two and a half times as long," he reports. The decorative fixtures also have a variety of trim heights, the lowest being at around 7'. They're also dimmed down, adding ambiance to the environment. "The idea was to have it look almost bedroom-like in the quality of light. We wanted a very warm, dimmed incandescent look, and we didn't mind mixing color temperature," he adds. Putting the 130V lamps in a 120V socket had another added bonus for the LD and his crew. "Because they're 130V lamps, the chandeliers are actually operating as if they've been dimmed back about 20%," adds Steffy.

Steffy also called upon the professionals at Lightolier to do some custom work on one of the wall washers. "Actually, we asked Lightolier to modify one of its lights because the T6 39W CMH lamp was so new that no one had made a wall washer for track," the designer explains. "So we had to scramble to see if Lightolier would do it, and they decided they would," he concludes. Working out the wall washer situation with Lightolier was Steffy's favorite parts of the project. "I like light, I like the effects of light, but to meet the energy challenge with this nifty little lamp and get the kind of color quality and efficiency, it was a tickle," he notes.

From the outside, Torrid appears to be saturated with color, thanks to the front window, which is actually red Plexiglas®. "Normally, we'd fool around with gels," he admits. The red Plexiglas provided more than enough color, bathing the front window in red. Moving inside, Steffy found that gels weren't needed. "In Torrid, you don't have to fool around with gels and such--some people can deal with it, some people can't. And it is easier from a maintenance standpoint," the designer notes.

Torrid opened in Brea, in Orange County, CA, last May, and there are now six locations across the country, in a total of five states. "In the end," Steffy comments, "not only did we want to meet California's Title 24, but we wanted to meet the latest ASHRAE/IESNA guidelines, because we knew it was going into other states. And we did actually keep the power budget at 2W/sq. ft., which was the real challenge of the project," he concludes.

Lighting Consultant
Gary Steffy Lighting Design Inc.
Gary Steffy, Damon Grimes

Design Firm
JGA, Inc.
Kenneth Nisch, Chairman; Kim Abruscato, Senior Designer; Brian Eastman, Graphic Design Director; Stephanie Bourdon, Creative Resource Manager; Arvin Stephenson, Project Manager

Design Collaborator
June Lester Design
June Lester

Client Team
Orval Madden, Founder; Betsy McLaughlin, President & CEO; Jerry Cook, COO; John Gatturna, Construction & Facilities Manager; Cindy Levitt, VP and General Merchandise Manager; Karen Talley, Divisional VP Accessories; Mark Bertone, VP Real Estate & Construction; Tom Rail, General Manager

Lighting Equipment
Lightolier PAA6P3 recessed metal-halide adjustable accent lights
Legion Series 300 Type C1 fluorescent striplights
Lightolier DL6P recessed metal-halide downlights
Lightolier 8295 metal-halide trackheads
Lightolier 8292WEBK metal-halide trackheads
Lightolier CS6132V compact fluorescent downlight pendants
Global Lighting Type P2 series incandescent pendants
Artemide Gaia incandescent suspension pendant
Lightolier Power Track matte black
GE, Philips, and Ushio lamps

Photos ©2001 Laszlo Regos Photography