New York-based designer Stuart Weitzman understands that selling high-end women’s shoes is part strategy, part seduction. Ten years ago, he hired Fabio Novembre to design the interior of his boutique in Rome as a continuous white ribbon. And today, to raise the profile of his brand and create flagship stores in Milan and other cities, he turned to Zaha Hadid, the visionary architect known for sculptural forms.
Hadid created a dynamic display for Weitzman within a 3,000-square-foot L-shaped space on the fashionable Via Sant’Andrea in the heart of Milan. “I didn’t want a conventional shoe store or store designer,” Weitzman says. “Rather, I chose someone with no preconceptions. The design team was mostly composed of women who were incredibly professional and understood exactly what was needed.”
Careful consideration of display
Within the Weitzman Milan flagship, Hadid designed six freestanding display units of rose gold fiberglass that extend down the middle of the space and link at the corner, just inside the entry. Their sculptural forms are echoed in extended cove ceilings and Corian shelves that protrude from expanses of frosted and back-painted glass. Soft gray resin coats the floor and wraps up the walls.
As project director Paola Cattarin of Zaha Hadid’s office recalls, “We had an intense exchange with the client to explore the practicalities of display and selling, including the height and width of the shelves, before we presented our design.” The strategy was to eliminate conventional seating and incorporate perches for customers within the display units.
Sculptural displays made of rose gold colored fiberglass incorporate seating, tempting customers who are waiting to try on a pair to continue looking at other shoes. Additional display is provided by Corian shelves set against back-painted glass.
“When a woman is waiting for the shoes she has ordered, she doesn’t stop looking,” Weitzman says. “I wanted her to sit in the middle of the display so that she casually picks up another shoe.” His concept has paid off: in the few months since the new store opened, sales have been running three times higher than they were in Weitzman’s former store, located a block away. In this intensely competitive environment, the large windows in the façade frame the interior structure, drawing curious spectators inside.
Interior as a work of art
The challenge for the designers was to exploit this unconventional space to the fullest, while creating a matrix for locations of a different size and configuration. “The display units can be separated or combined in alternative ways, whereas the concrete forms that define the space will be tailored to each situation,” Cattarin explains. Those forms make the store a total work of art, in which every line reinforces the rest, focusing attention on the shoes that are displayed in one wing of the L-shaped space and handbags in the other. The rough texture of raw concrete walls contrasts with the polished fiberglass, Corian, glass, and resin surfaces. The backlit, coved ceilings provide flattering ambient illumination, while two haloes of LEDs around coves are angled to spotlight the displays.
Weitzman stores in Hong Kong, Rome, and New York—all designed by Hadid—are scheduled to open in 2014, with at least two more to follow. In Milan, the Hadid team has created a fantasy world from which reality is excluded and gravity seems suspended; an environment that functions like a movie set to make everyone feel like a star.
Stuart Weitzman Milan Flagship
Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects
Client: Stuart Weitzman Holdings, Inc.
Where: Milan, Italy
What: 2,700 total square feet on two floors
Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request