What's in store?
When it comes to designing for fashion, Janson Goldstein steals the show
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 4/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Janson Goldstein's work begins where the catwalk ends. Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein are among the big names for which the New York firm has fashioned the interiors equivalent of the little black dress: spaces that look sophisticated and sexy—yet are as comfortable as a well worn T-shirt. In the past eight years, partners Mark Janson and Hal Goldstein have overseen projects ranging from unique boutiques to mass rollouts.
Did you set out to specialize in fashion retail?
MJ: We don't think of ourselves as retail designers—we're architects who understand the retail business. And we try to be as diverse as possible in our practice. For every house we build, we complete five or six stores.
HG: Fashion was a big part of the practice at Naomi Leff and Associates, where we worked prior to starting our own firm. Before Naomi, we worked for Steven Holl Architects, which provided a completely different perspective. We always see retail design from a spatial point of view. The architecture itself needs to have presence.
Do you notice any crossover between residential and retail design?
HG: They're both very personal. A store is just as personal to a fashion designer as a house is to a residential client.
How has retail design evolved?
HG: Ten or 15 years ago, store design was the domain of specialized retail designers. Now, architects do much of the work.
MJ: Recently, the economy has been affecting schedules and budgets. Materials selections are pushed to meet those constraints.
What do you like best about working in retail?
HG: The pace. We're constantly building, constantly designing, constantly moving on to new things.
MJ: Retail clients push you to find the newest materials and ways of doing things. That research often translates into other parts of our business.
Can you summarize how retail clients differ from one another?
MJ: With some clients, we have complete creative license. With others, we work with an established brand identity. In either case, protecting the brand is the top priority.
How did you start working with Armani?
MJ: At Naomi's office, I worked on Armani Collezioni stores, and senior VP Steven Scurro and I were part of the team that created the A/X Armani Exchange identity in 1990. Then, 11 years later, they asked us—in a nice roundabout way—to refresh A/X, including the palette and fixtures. The first Armani project we completed as Janson Goldstein was Emporio Armani's SoHo boutique in New York.
HG: With any long-term client, you grow together and develop a rapport. You internalize how they do things, where they're coming from. We understand their business and know the issues—they no longer need to educate us.
Do you deal with Giorgio Armani directly?
MJ: In the beginning, he'd meet with us every couple of months. Now we primarily work over phone and fax—which I take as a compliment. We also stay in constant contact with his in-house retail and merchandising team during a project.
Does he have an architectural signature?
MJ: He's a terrific client because he doesn't stand still—projects always evolve. He also responds to the architecture of each building.
HG: Architectural authenticity and an enormous attention to detail are key to the Armani image. He's not interested in set design. Even raw materials are detailed in a sophisticated way. For Emporio Armani in SoHo, for instance, we used sandblasted concrete blocks…
MJ:…which we hand-selected!
And what, exactly, do you look for in a concrete block?
MJ: It's easier to say what you don't want. We looked within a range of uniformity. We scoured local yards for good product, then bought a substantial amount of overage and picked the blocks on-site.
What constitutes a retail success?
MJ: When someone has seen an idea through. And I always look at quality, which isn't the same as image. You can sell an image with very poor quality—something we'd never do.
Ever think about opening your own store?
MJ: We've discussed it. But it might be a distraction from our practice.
Hal Goldstein and Mark Janson.
The Emporio Armani on New York's Madison Avenue, 2002.
Salvatore Ferragamo in Manhasset, New York, 2002.
An A/X Armani Exchange in Boca Raton, Florida, 2001.
Donna Karan in Manhasset, 1998.
The 2001 design for New York's Armani Casa, which launched the U.S. retail identity.