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Black Hole: The Cave-like Hollister Store in SoHo
I have been ruminating about the Hollister clothing store in SoHo, their flagship store that opened up the street from my home in July. I did not want to write a beauty shot blog about it (my partner Rick’s godson explained a beauty shot blog describes something but offers no particularly insight.) Besides, I was not quite sure what to say about it back then.
From the exterior, the alterations were few and low key. All the windows of the 19th-century cast-iron facade were mirrored and a then a simple, relatively small sign for the brand was placed on one of the windows. To signal that the store was open, they placed model/salespeople outside. During the summer, there were often two shirtless teenagers with zinc oxide on their noses trying to convey some of the surfer mystique for which the store is known (surfing is the central merchandising concept for the store—see the Hollister background story, a fictional account of the “life” of John M. Hollister and his son) However, it felt much more akin to a nightclub with no name on it, with blank-faced door handlers and buff bouncers. For a period right after they opened, they even had velvet ropes for crowd control.
So I waited until recently to go in. I walked into the main floor which until last year was the old first-floor sales room of the more brightly lit Pottery Barn store (I probably do not need to tell you what that store looked like since they are all pretty much look the same). The new Hollister interior was fantastic to a certain level. It is all black with pod areas outfitted with counters and shelves stacked with merchandise, all of it revolving around a vaguely vintage looking staircase. There are large piers with artificial palms attached interspersed throughout.
Both sides of the core space are hung with three levels of television monitors showing a video of the surf off the pier at Huntington Beach in California. The majority of the space is in deep shadow. Hence the images really stand out. In fact, it almost feels like you are standing under the Huntington Beach Pier, which I have done many times.
Ironically, it is very difficult to really see the merchandise. Then again, it is not really necessary to see the clothing because the entire concept is about the visual design of the space and not the quality of the product. After all, to sell items of quality, one needs good, well-considered lighting.
It is hard to write a description of the place or to even photograph it. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to even find images on the web. There are some views most likely commissioned by the company for promotional purposes that could only have been taken with additional lighting.
After thinking about it, I realized it reminded me of those caves in Italy…notably the Blue Lagoon in Capri. You row from the broad daylight into a dark cave and the portal of light from its opening creates a blue aura—a similar effect rendered by the exit doors onto Broadway.
Unless you are selling drama, why would want to sell your product in a cave?
I think I have missed the point.