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February 01, 2012
Before Revlon and Estée Lauder, there was Elizabeth Arden, founded in 1910 by Florence Nightingale Graham. The makeup, skin-care products, fragrances, and Red Door salons carrying her alter ego's name have been favored by Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Queen Elizabeth II. The current spokeswoman is actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Highland Associates principal Glenn Leitch knew that history well when he was hired to renovate Arden's longtime office in Stamford, Connecticut, having revamped the New York flagship store among a variety of projects. As the company's jocular head of design and construction, Jim Cantela, puts it, "Glenn's our go-to guy. He's got a lot of retail experience, does a lot of research. He's really like another member of our family. I can argue with him, swear at him. He's the best guy in the industry-he'll tell you himself."
Armed with degrees in both architecture and marketing, Leitch has made his mark with grand design gestures that incorporate iconic elements from corporate branding. "I always try to find the one little thing that you can use to tell a story about a company," he says. At Playboy Enterprises, for example, he stacked 15,000 back issues of Playboy to form a 10-foot-high feature wall. At Arden's New York flagship store, a curving red-painted steel wall alludes to the famed Red Door spas and fragrance.
In Stamford, he was tasked with distinguishing Arden from its blandly corporate surroundings. Staid neighbors include the Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, Ernst & Young, and Thomson Reuters, and Arden itself occupies yet another anonymous office building clad in reflective glass. The floor plate was a labyrinth of chest-high partitions in dingy drywall. "You never knew where you were," he says. Meanwhile, executive offices on the perimeter deprived everyone else of light and views.
Gutting and reconfiguring the 50,000 square feet, he didn't disappoint. Most dramatic is a slightly serpentine feature wall fronting a pair of conjoined meeting rooms. To fill rows of round holes in the wall's acrylic panels, he asked Arden to source 8,400 makeup brushes, customized with their handles in red rather than traditional black. The red handles present themselves to the meeting rooms, while the bristles face a corridor. "When you look at the wall from different angles, it's incredible. It gets sci-fi-y," he says.
Product is showcased constantly, underscoring the point that this office is home to the company's research-and-development arm. Because much of the business is in the highly profitable area of fragrance licensing-Halston, Kate Spade, John Varvatos-bottles are scattered about, and comically oversize dummies, called factices, hold places of honor in the office of the CFO. Leitch also used 150 empty flacons of Britney Spears's perfume Believe to create a chandelierlike ceiling installation above the red reception desk. "It happened to be the best bottle," he pleads. They're fitted with LEDs and affixed to stainless-steel rods in various lengths.
Packaging gets its due more abstractly with a trio of freestanding meeting rooms. Their canted glass enclosures replicate the angles of various bottles, and the sapphire blue, emerald green, and topaz yellow of the transparent vinyl film surfacing the glass transform the rooms into giant gemstones. They stand between a row of private offices, moved to the interior, and workstations for support staff closer to the window wall-Leitch's nod to current workplace wisdom.
Cutting-edge seating by the likes of Jeffrey Bernett, PearsonLloyd, Philippe Starck, and Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec furnishes meeting rooms and the break-out areas amid the workstations. For added punch, walls in office areas are often emblazoned with branding. "I love supergraphics," Leitch says. "I try to talk all my clients into them because of the bang you get for the buck."
Graphics make a subtler statement on the front of the temporary offices provided for anyone needing privacy for a phone call or quiet to catch up on work. The vision strip required by law, so people don't walk through clear glass, isn't simple frosted film here-Leitch took the opportunity to incorporate the company's red-door logo. It's one of the small touches that make a larger point: Even if a company deals in the cosmetic, its renovation must be more than skin deep.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
elizabeth demello; morgan gewandter; deborah lorenzo; lewis roane: highland associates. rs lighting design: lighting consultant. graphic systems group: graphics consultant. h&r glass: glasswork. f.l. young: acrylic work. malkin construction: general contractor.