Earlier this year, U.S.-based upscale department chain Bloomingdale's made its first foray into the international market, crossing the seas to set up shop in Dubai, a quickly developing tourist and fashion destination in the Middle East, with a new branded fashion (apparel and accessories) store and a Home store. The stores, designed by Seattle-based Callison, an International retail, commercial, mixed-use architecture and design firm, are anchored at each end of the Dubai Mall.
Tom Herndon, principal with Callison RYA Studio, who led the project, took some time to discuss with Contract magazine what design elements differentiate Bloomingdale’s Dubai, as well as some of the challenges the store posed for the Callison Global Retail team.
1. Tell us a little about the new store in Dubai. What elements of the design were really important and what did you focus on?
It's significant in that it is Bloomingdale's first store outside of the U.S. It is the largest retail department store in the Middle East and it's in the largest shopping mall in the world. In every way, it is a world-class department store and raises the bar for fashion department store retailing in the region. with above par customer experiences, fashion authority, merchandise presentation, and shopping environment.
The objective was to bring the Bloomingdale's New York Flagship DNA to Dubai, and the partnership between The Al Tayer Insignia Group and Bloomingdale’s was essential to creating this unique expression of these two powerhouse retailers.
The store is a collection of more than 50 branded designer shops that are painstakingly integrated into one dominant architectural and interior design identity that is uniquely Bloomingdale's. Because it is many stores within a store, each major category of business was given its own identity. The best beauty assortment and luxury fashion accessories—including the largest women'shoe department in the region and two fine jewelry salons, women’s designer and contemporary fashion, men's fashion and children's fashion are all housed in the main store, along with a host of customer amenities including three cafes, two salons, and two personal shopping complexes.
For the fashion store, an adjacent glass cylinder structure, originally designed as a main entrance to Dubai mall, was claimed by Bloomingdale’s as its front door. This one-of-a-kind part of the new store is highlighted by two serpentine glowing balconies on the second and third levels. It can be seen from a mile away—an iconic architectural symbol of Bloomingdale’s at Dubai Mall. It houses luxury branded shops Gucci, Armani and Bottega Venetta on the ground floor, and Bloomingdale’s own “Y.E.S” and “Metro 59” young fashion stores on the upper levels.
Within the interior of the mall, unique to this store was the great expanse of storefront façade. Between both stores, there is over 800 feet of store front, more than quadruple the average for an anchor store. This has made for an impressive Bloomingdale’s branded presence and visual presentation opportunity inside the mall. There are more than 15 entrances to the store in all.
2. What kinds of design challenges did you encounter? How did you overcome?
Because Dubai Mall was already under construction when Bloomingdale’s entered the project, the challenge was to create a contiguous building envelope large enough to house the full Bloomingdale’s assortment. In order to do this, the home store was located in a separate location from the fashion store. This turned out to be beneficial because the home store now has a ground floor location and operates with the strength of a stand alone store.
The design of the home store features four stores in one: kitchenware and table top; bath and bed linens; a furniture gallery; and a brand new concept for Bloomingdale’s—a “Street of Shops.” This “street” forms the spine of the home store and boast’s the first Magnolia Bakery outside the U.S., a gelato shop, a florist, a Bloomie's shop, an art gallery, a travel shop, and Salon Teas, as well as vintage, Arabic, and New York gift shops.
3. What is important to consider when expanding a brand beyond international borders?
It is crucial to have an intimate knowledge of the brand essence you are transporting, and of the culture you are expanding into. Have an authentic respect for both and strive to create an expression that betters what has been done before, while remaining true to the brand’s core values and presentation principles.
Retail Design Snapshot, on behalf of Callison’s Global Retail team:
* Most important factors to consider in retail design: It is important to keep in mind the customer experience when working on any project You want to create a point of difference; a destination worth visiting.
* Typical approach taken on a new project: Our retail group follows the four D’s: Discovery, Definition and translation, Design and Delivery. It is important to also work with the client on the big idea and then all design decisions can be based on that concept.
* Hot trends in retail design today: One trend we are seeing in this current economy is the need to create and design stores for our clients that look and feel like flagships but are also cost effective and still stay true to the brand identity. Another trend we are seeing with some of our Western clients, as we work with them to expand globally, is to keep their brand intact. Some clients want to blend in and adopt the local culture, but we have one client that is adamant to keep their U.S. roots in order to differentiate themselves in the market. It’s less about localizing and more about staying true to the brand identity. We are seeing this go both ways; it just depends on the client.
* Design innovation in the next 10 years: There will be a yin/yang tension between designing spaces for the masses that feel like individual experiences and offering unique opportunities for each person to design for themselves. The tension between temporary and permanent will become more prevalent—as we‘re starting to see now with pop-up stores. This will be an even bigger issue as the years go by. There will need to more innovation from designers in this area. As it relates to the idea of being temporary and permanent, the pop up is the earliest innovation of this.
Like the oxymoron of social media really being all about the self—your opinions on everything in the world (Twitter), designing how you appear in the world and what you accept into your world (Facebook), retail design will face the same need to meet the individuals expectations to do this with their retail experiences and their purchasing/shopping habits. This could lead to partnering of brands in retail that can achieve the individualism that the shopper requires and the consumerism that the brand and bottom line require.
For retail designers, the challenge will be how to do this while keeping brands pure and responsible to each bottom line and building brand loyalty, all while pleasing the shopper.