Craig Bassam is part of a new creative team responsible for revamping the venerable shoe manufacturer's stores and image.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
BALLY, THE 150-YEAR-OLD, Swiss-based brand known for its quality European shoes, has received a serious makeover from Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows. Bassam is the architect charged with revamping the company's stores, while Fellows serves as the company's new creative director, now responsible for transforming an esteemed but somewhat stodgy label into a fresh fashion statement that can attract both sales and media attention. Their invitation to redesign the Bally image came from Abel Halpern, partner and managing director of Texas Pacific Group, the American investment fund that acquired Bally in 1999. (Halpern also serves as Bally's chairman of the board.) Halpern and Fellows know each other from Harvard Business School; Bassam had designed the entrepreneur's London apartment and offices.
Initially, Bassam was unenthusiastic about the proposed project. He hadn't worked before in retail design and the prospect did not intrigue him, but Fellows' assurance of complete freedom did. Berlin, the site of the first new store, was another draw. "It's a new city, a modern city, a great place to do a first concept," comments Bassam. "My attitude was that the whole project would be a complete experiment."
His transformation of Bally's existing 2,800-sq.-ft. store at 219 Kurfürstendamm is remarkable, taking retail design to a new level. Bassam was dissatisfied with the standard, characterless white box with product-lined walls. Instead, he wanted the Berlin store—executed entirely in oiled European oak with precision Swiss craftsmanship—to hold its own as a thoughtful piece of architecture. "The space can stand alone and have other functions, such as an exhibition space," Bassam comments. "Without furniture, it is not empty but strong, adaptable, functional, warm, and comfortable."
Although he does not consider himself a minimalist, Bassam limited his scheme to three components: the wood box of the architecture, rudimentary display blocks, and a few pieces of furniture. The overall wood background material represents the antithesis of super-slick store interiors. "Switzerland suggests a certain connection with nature and also the precise character associated with its people," the architect remarks. "Photo research showed pictures of old Swiss chalets with all-wood interiors." Bassam credits the cabinetmakers for the stunning millwork: "The oak boards on the floors and walls follow a grid pattern. This affords a sense of rationality and rhythm and creates a sense of order."
The display blocks constitute another departure from the retail norm. Modular and mobile, they are simply white-lacquered cubes on rubber bases. Their simplicity serves multiple purposes. "The products can be showcased as if in a museum, easily viewed from all angles," the architect attests. Nonetheless, merchandise remains approachable rather than precious. The block system also facilitates a flexible approach to merchandising. "The only way to make strong and changing statements is to reconfigure the store," Bassam notes. The display blocks render store makeovers expedient and striking.
Handcrafting and a feeling of warmth also distinguish the store's furniture. The stools, benches, stacked storage trays, and even hangers are custom pieces of solid walnut. The stools, adapted from a Swiss tractor seat, were actually carved on shoe lasts in the Bally factory in Switzerland.
Bally's Berlin store gives equal emphasis to men's wear and women's wear, with shoes and accessories at street level and apparel above. The Berlin experiment presages the company's future plans. Bassam is adapting his scheme for a Beverly Hills renovation, slated for December completion, and is also at work on a new shop in Lugano. Of the firm's 170 stores worldwide, several in London and Europe have been refurbished and simplified with the block elements and camel carpets. New York is on the radar screen, and Bally is investigating a Tokyo location. Apparently, the new look is quickly taking off.