Randall A. Ridless designs a warm, modern interior for Burberry's global flagship store in London.
Julia Lewis -- Interior Design, 1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
EMULATING THE SUCCESSFUL revivals of Gucci and Prada, Burberry is the latest old-world luxury label to reinvent itself as a trendy lifestyle brand for international hipsters. Although the venerated purveyor of plaid always did a steady business in trench coats, umbrellas, and other accessories featuring the iconic black, red, white, and tan pattern, the company's management recently decided it was time to capitalize more aggressively on the Burberry name. In 1997, Rose Marie Bravo, an American who was formerly with Saks Fifth Avenue, was named chief executive and challenged to rejuvenate the 145-year-old British clothier. With Bravo came a dynamic, new creative director and an influx of young talent whose collective genius is evident in a string of imaginative advertising campaigns photographed by Mario Testino.
The next step of Bravo's "re-imaging" effort was the much-needed redesign of Burberry's 58 retail stores in nine countries, starting with a new global flagship in London. For this assignment, Bravo commissioned New York-based interior designer Randall A. Ridless to devise a retail environment that would reflect the new, improved Burberry. From the beginning, says Ridless, he worked closely with Bravo, Burberry vice-president of visual merchandising Diane Gatterdam, and project architect Mark Pinney, who was responsible for "the elaborate task" of re-engineering the 16,000-sq.-ft. space located in the base of the Westbury Hotel on the corner of New Bond and Conduit Streets. While Ridless studied company archives, developed concept drawings, and researched colors and materials, Pinney focused on structural alterations to the building and the layout of distinct but open rooms on three levels.
The direction from Bravo, who was "the driving force behind the project," says Ridless was to create "a modern but not minimal, store that would evoke Burberry's rich heritage and British-ness without using antique furniture and props." The design, he adds, was to be "warm, witty, and luxurious"-and not overwhelmed by an omnipresence of Burberry check. Drawing from vernacular architecture, Burberry history, and Bravo's progressive vision, Ridless conceived the store as an abstracted and enlarged London townhouse, with a pared-down Georgian stone façade and a crisp, clean, modern interior dominated by blond English oak. Much thought was given to the reinterpretation of the Burberry check, recalls the designer, and ways to allude to the internationally recognized pattern without being heavy-handed. The plaid is an obvious and pervasive presence in the store; however this presence is established in deft, unexpected ways, and provides a unifying motif for the design. Colors and materials derive from the check, says Ridless, who chose English oak, red Venetian plaster, and antique bronze to represent the pattern's different components.
Each floor is divided into a sequence of intimate rooms dedicated to different classifications of merchandise. A dramatic introduction to the wide, wide world of Burberry, the main level is where one finds coveted status-symbol accessories as well as unexpected novelty items such as plaid bikinis and dog sweaters. Marble and travertine floors, cream-colored walls, and oak fixtures contribute to a light, neutral palette. By contrast, a grand staircase ascends along a red-tinted, polished Venetian plaster wall that is punctuated with display boxes. The dramatic, plaid-carpeted stair links the main floor to the men's department below and women's above.
Whereas the entry level is predominantly cream-colored with red accents, Ridless distinguished the men's floor with a subtle shift of colors and materials. In these rooms, which house men's clothing, wood finishes change from natural to ebonized and olive green complements pale walls and dark floors. Oak, walnut, and ebony marquetry on a fireplace breast make an elegant nod to the Burberry plaid. Furniture, designed by Ridless, is inspired by French and English pieces from the 1930s and '40s.
The upper level, where women's and children's clothing are sold, is marked by a subdued, tonal palette. Furniture features blond wood finishes and wool/cashmere upholstery in rich, creamy hues. Woven in a subtle, tone-on-tone plaid pattern, custom carpets provide an additional layer of warmth.
"Each room stands on its own as a flexible kit of parts that can be used in future projects," concludes Ridless. Just twelve weeks after the London opening, Burberry unveiled a new Tokyo shop, and plans for a 36,000-sq.-ft. New York store are in development. Design and construction of the London project were completed in one year. Ridless shares credit for this feat with project designer Elizabeth Martell.