Ace of Spades
Rogers Marvel Architects, with interior designer Steven Sclaroff, embark on the expansion trail for Kate Spade.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
IT ALL STARTED in 1993 with a simple nylon tote. The Kate Spade bag—embraced by teenage girls on the party circuit, as well as their older sisters and mothers—launched a small empire. In the last six years, the product line has grown, as Spade has added shoes, accessories, pajamas, raincoats, and a full range of handbags to the brand. Now there's a Jack Spade label for men's bags, too. Worldwide distribution is supported by an international network of 12 independent stores, a healthy wholesale operation, and the backing of Neiman Marcus, which purchased a majority share of the company in 1999. But as the company has grown, certain constants remain, among them the continuing collaboration between Kate Spade and Rogers Marvel Architects, a sustained relationship that defies the fashion world's obsession with the new. From the first warren of showroom/factory/production spaces on West 28th Street and a tiny shop on Thompson Street, the architects have been building Kate Spade's expanding world and steadily enriching its architectural vocabulary.
Prior to the Spade launch, the architects had no retail experience. Rogers Marvel's realm of expertise was museums and galleries. Rather than a hindrance, the architects' fresh eyes with respect to retail design intrigued the prospective client. "We were attracted to the architects because they hadn't worked in retail before," comments Andy Spade, CEO and creative director. "Also, their design sensibility mirrored ours: simple, modern, interesting materials. There was something slightly organic about their process that we liked."
Jonathan Marvel and Robert Rogers also recognized the potential, developing for Spade a design template applicable to both art and commercial arenas. "Materials are selected for their inherent natural beauty and simplicity, and are elegantly composed and thoughtfully detailed," they explain. The Spade headquarters at 48 West 25th Street, as well as the San Francisco and Chicago shops—all completed with collaborating interior designer Steven Sclaroff—dramatically illustrate the architects' facility in realizing projects that could serve as either retail or gallery environments.
These projects, along with stores in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Manhasset, New York, were designed concurrently in a feat of scheduling and construction, to say nothing of design. Spade and Rogers Marvel also credit their general contractor, Richter+Ratner, which participated in cost and feasibility studies from the outset. "Clients want it done well, inexpensively, and quickly, without sacrifice on any count," comments Michael Ratner of the challenges typical of high-end retail design.
The client's directive for the recent expansion: an even greater degree of refinement and sophistication. Rogers and Marvel obliged with a basic scheme easily adaptable to diverse situations. They opted for neutral backgrounds with untinted plaster walls and large slabs of limestone for flooring. Display requirements are neatly contained within the architecture itself. Shelving units are for the most part set into the walls, although there are also wall-mounted units. A few freestanding fixtures—ebonized mahogany frames with glass and cast-concrete shelves—provide additional display space.
Although the architects succeeded in establishing a recognizable set of visual cues that immediately transmit "Kate Spade," the various stores each presented different issues with respect to scale, reflecting the corporate policy of opening shops in architecturally significant buildings. Malls remain out of the question.
Rogers and Marvel describe the Grant Street location in San Francisco as "a big double-height cube with only one window." They added another window wall perpendicular to the storefront, which assured a "wash of daylight" in the 30-by-40-by-22-ft.-high volume. They then turned to the problems presented by two ungainly central columns. "We removed the plaster capitals and concentrated on making the space's corners interesting," says Marvel. "Eroding the corners by cutting away wall space was a tactic to keep the eye moving and take the focus away from the columns." In a more dramatic move, Sclaroff introduced a '50s-style lighting fixture by David Weeks. Resembling a Calder mobile, this playful construction of spun aluminum shades, polished aluminum pipes, and stainless steel cables is perfectly suited to the site's scale.
Chicago was another story. Spade was moving into one of the last historic townhouses on Oak Street, a property formerly housing a Versace shop. "We had to cleanse the place of the Versace karma," Marvel remarks. The architects immediately established the Kate Spade imprint on the exterior with an oversized bay window and a flourish of urban landscaping. Taking cues from the building's brick façade, which they left intact above the first floor, Rogers and Marvel installed a small expanse of brick pavement under the new canopy of lead-coated copper. A limestone planter brings a stylized city garden to the premises, while a sliver window, visible through the alley, gives a glimpse of the architects' newly-installed stairway.
Inside, the two-story space of 2,500 sq. ft. presents the Jack Spade collection on the upper level, while the first floor houses most of the Kate Spade label. In addition to the established vocabulary of finishes and display elements, the Chicago project has an array of vintage furnishings and new Jack Spade fixtures, all contributed by Sclaroff.
Back in New York, Kate Spade's showrooms, offices, and design studios are spread over 32,000 sq. ft. on four floors, integrated one by one into the headquarters over the past four years. In this latest renovation, which reorganized adjacencies, Rogers and Marvel sought maximum openness for each 8,000-sq.-ft. floor plate. "No rooms, just flowing spaces," they comment. Even the showroom floor—an area typically broken up into separate rooms for the organization of product lines and the privacy of buyers—is configured with a 15-ft.-long sliding wall and pocket doors. The space can function as either a continuous gallery or as a series of rooms.
The ever-present need to share daylight resulted in one of the headquarters' finest treatments. In the interest of translucency, the architects created interior window and door grids where apertures are covered with linen fabric (from the collections) sandwiched between glass and framed with blackened steel. A hint of Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie? "It's my favorite painting," Marvel responds.
"Our biggest challenge was taking the Kate Spade we know and making it local for Chicago and San Francisco," says Rogers. The jobs were completed within six months. Credits extend to Jennifer Carpenter, Marta Sanders, Chad Smith, and Eugene Colberg.