At Levi Strauss & Co.'s showroom in New York, managing principal Todd DeGarmo gives denim a dressed-up new environment
Monica Geran -- Interior Design, 11/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
"You step off the elevator, and instantly you're in the world of Levi's," says Todd DeGarmo, Studios Architecture managing principal. He's referring to the jeans manufacturer's New York showroom and offices, relocated from two congested floors to one open expanse in the same building. Covering an entire block, the 40,000-square-foot Levi's premises serve as a flagship showroom for visiting buyers as well as a day-to-day workplace for 80 employees.
The Studios scheme not only focuses on exhibited merchandise but also renders buyers' visits easy, productive, and pleasurable. The deftness and flexibility of the strategy is most evident on the part of the floor devoted to Levi's and Dockers brands. (Corporate offices are grouped on the opposite side.) In the lobby, mannequins clad in the look du jour stand on a backlit acrylic platform lined with up-lights. The runway punctures a logo-lettered Corian partition, then continues into the main corridor beyond.
Known internally as the walking tour, this passage is punctuated by four break-out areas. These are separated by luminous display panels made of taut, ceiling-mounted acrylic scrims down-lit via fluorescent light coves. Flooring is terrazzo, made to look like concrete (and chosen over the real thing for durability and maintenance reasons).
Buyers' showrooms, a total of 16 at 450 square feet each, wrap the building's perimeter. Eight showrooms are screened only by movable laminate partitions; eight others are enclosed by glass and drywall. Furnishings are both interchangeable and maneuverable. Custom rolling display stands and sliding partitions—layered with fabric-wrapped acoustical panels for sound absorption—make it possible to enlarge or reduce meeting areas. Worktables topped with cherry are actually composed of up to six smaller tables that can be used individually as well. DeGarmo chose conference chairs for the closed showrooms and stacking chairs for the open kind.
The array of learn-to-love-Levi's amenities also includes a food counter at one end of the long corridor and a guest suite with computers, telephones, and a closet for out-of-town buyers with time between biz dates. A 1,000-square-foot presentation room handles spillover displays when not hosting product rollouts and training sessions.
The presentation room is separated from the corridor by a curving, canted stretch of walnut-finished horizontal slats that creates a distinct break in the otherwise minimal interior. Eighty-five feet long and rising to the 9-foot ceiling, the wall includes six pivoting panels. Levi's has stipulated that the wall may provide shortcuts and a backdrop for models but may not be used to hang goods or promotional signage.
DeGarmo's reaction to the installation melds pride and pleasure. "It's so great to sense all the freedom and energy and know what people are accomplishing here," he says. Only time will tell, of course, but his design already shows the signs of wearing like a stalwart pair of 501s.