This week, a look at some of the ways fashion brands are rethinking their physical stores in a post-pandemic world. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
Earlier this fall, when designer Tanya Taylor opened her first store — a flagship on Madison Avenue — she knew she wanted it to be something unique. She spent almost a full year working with designer Jessica Hyland, who’s also designed stores for Khaite, to deck out the interior with details specific and personal to the brand and to Taylor herself. A floral design Taylor drew for Michelle Obama is carved into the walls. A cabinet in one section of the store was purchased by Taylor from Jenna Lyons.
The goal, Taylor said, was to create a space that was a living embodiment of the brand. In addition, she wanted the store to feel like a residence — specifically, a chic Madison Avenue apartment — rather than a purely commercial enterprise.
Taylor is one of many fashion brand founders currently looking for ways to revitalize the brick-and-mortar store. Skyrocketing online customer acquisition costs are driving brands to seek alternative forms of customer acquisition and relationship building, and physical stores are proving popular alternatives. The pandemic gave brand executives time to rethink how they would approach these stores. Many are now embracing new strategies, like prioritizing store design elements that reference the brand’s identity and controlling the ratio of customers to store associates.
“Describing stores as a brand space rather than just a store is a good way to think about how brands are conceptualizing them,” said Scott Faucheux, creative director of TPG Architecture which has designed stores for dozens of fashion brands including Birkenstock, Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. “These spaces are expected to do more than just sell product.”
In Taylor’s store, for instance, she has taken the opportunity to use her 1,400-square-foot space to showcase many of the smaller brands she loves. Unlike the Tanya Taylor website, the store sells other brands, including home decor from Helle Mardahl and Hay and jewelry from Monica Sordo and Khiry. Tanya Taylor has wholesale relationships with some of the brands, through which she places regular orders to keep the shelves stocked.
Physical retail is the next big area of focus for Tanya Taylor, particularly as a tool for introducing new customers to the brand, Taylor said. The combination of a residential feel, personal details related to Taylor and a mini marketplace showcasing brands Taylor loves all contribute to putting brand identity at the center of the experience.
“Just having the doors open, we have people coming in who have never heard of us,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for us to educate them and let them try things on.”
For Rime Arodaky, the founder of her eponymous Parisian luxury bridal brand, her newest store was a chance to introduce herself to her second-largest market: the U.S. Over 40% of Rime Arodaky’s customers are in the U.S., primarily buying online or through the brand’s wholesale partnerships with retailers in major cities including New York, Chicago and Seattle. But online customers tend to only buy second looks, rather than their main bridal gown, and only after seeing it in person, Arodaky said. As such, wholesale retailers, where the brand has little oversight, have served as the first experience many customers have with Arodaky’s dresses.
Arodaky’s central goal for her brand’s new 2,000-square-foot store in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood is to introduce as many new people to the brand as possible. There are standard bridal retail touches, like a glass of champagne offered to every customer upon entering the store. There are also more digitally-forward ideas like custom playlists customers can select to listen to while they shop. The physical layout of the store was designed with new customer acquisition in mind. Strategically arranged mirrors let passersby on the street see more of the store through the windows. The store also houses exclusive products.
Other brands are augmenting the view from outside the store, though in different ways. For example, designers Jonathan Anderson and Simon Porte Jacquemus have both incorporated a style of window design that de-emphasizes the clothes in favor of sculptures, art and other eye-catching objects.
“Retail has changed and opportunities have changed,” Arodaky said. She was close to opening a store in the West Village before Covid, but canceled the project. “The new space is bigger and it has a SoHo vibe. We signed a two-year lease, and it was all so smooth and easy.”
Among the brands he works with, including Birkenstock and, most recently, the sportswear brand Tear, Faucheux said there’s a renewed focus on three-dimensionality in stores. He chalks this up to the fact that many customers are now used to seeing potential purchases as flat 2D objects on their screens. The strongest thing that a store can then do is show off the product in a way that’s impossible in an e-commerce setting, he said.
“In visual merchandising, a lot of brands are creating these big, central, heroic moments for their products,” Faucheaux said. “Some of the brands we work with that do rich visual storytelling best are Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. They’ve made their stores very modular and are constantly changing the design to showcase new things.”
While most brands are incorporating three-dimensional displays using physical products, some brands like H&M have begun to incorporate 3D holographic displays in-store that can be more quickly swapped out.
Flexibility is another major trend in how new stores are being designed, Faucheux said. The clients he works with want a store that can also host a party, a panel discussion, a class, a private shopping appointment or a musical performance.
In its 2023 luxury retail report, the real estate services company JLL revealed a number of ways that luxury brands are approaching retail, including their choice locations. Brands including Tanya Taylor, Valentino, Lanvin and, most notably, Hermès with its 45,000-square-foot store have all set up shop on Madison Avenue this year. But, according to the report, of the 650,000 square feet of retail space leased by luxury brands this year, 38% of them were opened in malls.
Stussy, the iconic streetwear label founded by Shawn Stussy, is one such brand that chose a mall location. This month, it relocated its Hawaii store to a space twice the size in the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki. The new location, designed by Perron-Roettinger designers Willo Perron and Brian Roettinger, who also created Rihanna’s halftime Super Bowl show, is a drastic departure from Stussy’s original Hawaii store.
The new store operates differently. Despite the larger location, Stussy’s Hawaii store puts less product out for display. And unlike the previous iteration, all non-display clothing is kept in the back, leaving only displays on the actual store floor. Even then, not all of the seasonal products are displayed at once, giving each piece plenty of room to breathe and be examined and felt from all angles. The change was done to create a more elevated and personal feel, according to Brockton Kodama, vp of Stussy, Honolulu.
“By necessity, our staff interacts with the customers much more,” Kodama said. “That’s a major positive change. We get to spend more time getting to know the customer, because they have to come to us to get anything they need.”
The drawback, although one Kodama said the company is managing well, is that this strategy requires more staff. Stussy has increased the number of employees at its new Hawaii store to manage the new strategy.
“Because the store is so busy, we almost always have a line out front,” Kodama said. “We only let in a certain number of people at a time so it never gets too crowded, and we try to limit it to no more than one group per employee. Everyone who comes into our store should feel like they’re having a one-on-one shopping experience.”