Architect Peter Marino had several mandates for his redesign of Chanel’s American flagship store on 57th Street: Increase the retail space from 6,500 to 9,750 square feet, keep it all very Chanel—and have it done in seven and a half months. Marino began studying the history of the brand—speciﬁcally, Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment. He also started going to runway shows, although designer Karl Lagerfeld’s contributions were strictly conceptual. After all, says Marino, “I wouldn’t tell Karl ‘Now design a black skirt.’ ” The result is part comfort zone, part brand statement, where traditional Chanel motifs cohabit with lots of shiny materials and with a mammoth LED wall, in a calculated pitch to pique consumer desires.
Manhandling the merch is a crucial part of selling, so handbags and sunglasses are right out in the open (shoplifting is less of a risk in small boutiques, with their higher staff-to-client ratio). “If you touch something, you get attached to it much more quickly,” says Marino. “You’re holding the bag, you’re involved with the bag, you’re hooked.”
“There’s a big intimidation factor with Chanel,” says Marino. Entice the skittish masses off the streets with lower-cost pieces—a shoe, a bag, a wallet—that provide a quick hit. “Impulse, impulse, impulse,” is how Chanel vice-president of fashion Barbara Cirkva describes it.
Reinforcing the brand at every juncture is crucial to retail romance. This particular taupe is part of Chanel’s history (think spectator pump); Marino used it in the carpet to constantly, subtly, remind customers whose store they’re in.
An elaborate, high-tech LED riff on the company’s signature fabric, Techno Tweed is a prominent feature in all the redesigned boutiques. (In Tokyo, it veils the entire Chanel tower.) This installation is made of 25,000 lightbulbs and runs, shrouded in glass, up all three stories of the boutique.
Accessories line the entrance corridor, but the eye goes right to the mannequins at the back, which suggest that the good stuff requires some deeper investigation. (Shoes and ready-to-wear are upstairs.) The outfits will change frequently, in order to keep product-lust at a fever pitch. “Chanel customers come in once or twice a month,” says Marino. “If you come in September and a friend comes October 10 and gets something different, it makes you crazy.” Crazy jealous, that is—and thus, another sale.
Staircase at Rear
Marino thought a marble staircase would be great. Chanel’s lawyers thought a marble staircase could lead to slipping or injuries—in short, lawsuit territory. The lawyers won, and the steps are covered in a plush, shock-absorbing black carpet.
These glossy red screens, made of poured resin designed to simulate Chinese lacquer, are based on versions in Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment. Their role is to heighten drama: The salesperson can slide them back and forth to reveal or conceal pieces of a collection, offering the illusion of a hidden, unique treasure.
Black Outlines on All Edges
You’d recognize the Chanel No. 5 box half a mile away thanks to its bold, black outline. Marino brought that visual cue into play inside and out—at night, the entire boutique lights up in the shape of a perfume bottle. Inside, all edges are outlined in the same precise, symmetrical lines.