On the Avenue
Kimberly Goad -- Interior Design, 11/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
When Saks Fifth Avenue set out to remodel the third floor of the New York flagship, executives enlisted Mancini Duffy, a 90-year-old firm with a retail portfolio that includes Bloomingdale's in New York and the Shops at Fountainbleu in Miami Beach. Saks could have used an arbitration team as well. At issue? How to divvy up the 61,000-square-foot home of the top designer labels, so each of its 49 vendors could have high-profile frontage. Fashion designers, as it turns out, are no different from anyone else when it comes to real estate: What they care about most is that old chestnut, location, location, location.
The designer floor hadn't been touched since the 1980's—and it showed. Relying heavily on pear wood and a ponderous combination of mauve and rust, the overall scheme no longer functioned as a backdrop for luxury goods. Shoppers made their way from a narrow entry, down a single curving aisle off which goods were displayed without distinction. "In the '80's, designers hadn't yet gotten into the business of aggressively controlling their own shops," Mancini Duffy creative director Ed Calabrese says.
Keeping the mall-like center-aisle setup would have been the obvious solution. However, Saks had no interest in obvious solutions—the setting had to inspire customers to explore. To that end, Mancini Duffy used strong architecture, subtle plays of textures and surfaces, and unique objects. About 80 percent of the furnishings and fittings are custom. As explained by Saks senior vice president William Herbst, who handles store planning and design, visuals, and construction, "There's a framework for the vendor, but we still have an identity of our own."
Mancini Duffy gutted the floor, then reconfigured it with three main aisles instead of one to give each designer prime storefront exposure. Of the 49 vendors, the 22 occupying "hard shops" contributed financially to the build-out while adhering to overall guidelines imposed by Saks, such as keeping cash registers out of sight. "Fashion designers have spent a lot of time and money developing their brands," Herbst says of the decision to allow individual vendors to incorporate logos. "Customers identify with those things, so they should see them, but they should also know they're at Saks Fifth Avenue."
Shoppers might not be aware, though, that the store is actually two buildings: the 1920's landmark, facing Fifth Avenue, and a smaller tower behind, added in the 1970's. To make the two sides of the designer floor more cohesive, Mancini Duffy removed the walls around the escalators, which are in the tower, and extended the flooring without interruption—a combination of striped Turkish marble and gray travertine with distressed limed oak. "It's symmetrical and orderly, but there are some asymmetrical things that help break up the monotony of a typical department store," Calabrese says. The ceiling, for instance, is an intriguing panoply of planes and lighting effects.
The endless attention to detail "stimulates the customer's eye," Herbst says. Chains of crystals drape a structural column at the entry. Around the walls of the central rotunda, bronze-beaded curtains hang behind 7½-foot-high panels of backlit onyx; overhead twinkle tiny bulbs of a tree-limb chandelier by Michele Oka Doner.
The rotunda, one of the interruptive elements that Calabrese calls "pauses," is designed to serve as a setting for special events as well as a showcase for new designers. Both here and in the separate boutiques, the floor's less-is-more philosophy dictates that only one of each size be displayed, so Mancini Duffy expanded back-of-house corridors to connect the stockrooms to the fitting rooms, 30 standard ones and the 19 suites that belong to the Fifth Avenue Club, the store's personal-shopping service. Apropos of its name, most of those suites line the Fifth Avenue side of the building, offering views of Rockefeller Center and Saint Patrick's Cathedral.
Photography by Adrian Wilson.
FROM FRONT SWAROVSKI: CUSTOM CRYSTAL CHAINS (ENTRY). MAYA ROMANOFF: WALL COVERING (ENTRY, JEAN PAUL GAULTIER), CEILING TILE (JEAN PAUL GAULTIER, GRAEME BLACK). CORNICHE CARPET MILLS: CUSTOM RUGS (ENTRY, ROTUNDA). MICHELE OKA DONER: CHANDELIERS (ENTRY, ROTUNDA), FILIGREE PANELING (HALLS). INGO MAURER: PENDANT FIXTURE (GRAEME BLACK). PHILIP NIMMO & COMPANY THROUGH PROFILES: TABLE (ROTUNDA). BCM ARCHITECTURAL: CHAINS. ARTEMIDE: CEILING FIXTURE (HALL). CASCADE COIL DRAPERY: SCREEN MESH. THROUGH RALPH PUCCI INTERNATIONAL: TABLE (GIVENCHY), CHANDELIER (JEAN PAUL GAULTIER). ODEGARD: CHAIRS (HALL). HOLLY HUNT: SOFA (PERSONAL SHOPPING). KRAVET: SOFA FABRIC. AVIVA STANOFF DESIGN STUDIO: PILLOWS. THROUGH GALLERY 33: TABLE. THROUGH PROFILES: SIDE CHAIRS, DESK. VASWANI: CUSTOM UNDER-DESK STORAGE. ARTISTIC TILE: WALL TILE. THROUGHOUT RALPH PUCCI INTERNATIONAL: CUSTOM MANNEQUINS. ARCHITECTURAL SYSTEMS: WOOD FLOORING. INNOVATIVE COMPANIES: STONE SUPPLIER. BENJAMIN MOORE & CO.: PAINT. BRIDGES + LAVIN ARCHITECTS: ARCHITECT OF RECORD. LIGHTING WORKSHOP: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. GLICKMAN ENGINEERING ASSOCIATES: MEP. FAUBION ASSOCIATES: WOODWORK. TRICON CONSTRUCTION: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.