Flowering branches flank the marble-floored sweeping entry area
In three words, how would you describe the design style of CM stores? And the fashion?
Jennifer DiLeonardi: There is an intentional dichotomy between the environment of our stores and the fashions displayed within them. Store design aesthetics are timeless, local, and aspirational. Club Monaco fashions are contemporary, modern, and inspirational
How was designing the New York City flagship different from doing other CM stores, besides the classic building it is housed in?
Given that the Club Monaco Store Design Team’s Studio is only a few blocks away, Fifth Avenue was literally in our ‘backyard’. We are all essentially New Yorkers that are very familiar with this recently re-discovered neighborhood of ‘the Flat Iron District’ and could react honestly to what we felt that the neighborhood was lacking at the time the team began designing and space-planning our NYC Flagship location. We also wanted to reference the past history of Department Stores and International Specialty Stores on this street and questioned how to tie this into the Concept of our Flagship. New Yorkers love their coffee, and we were on site constantly during pre-design but there were not many options to find a good cup before or after a meeting. Together with the CEO John Mehas we saw the opportunity in a small sliver of space that was absorbed into the floor plan, which used to be the original building’s lobby to turn into an intimate café with street-front access. Once the Coffee Shop was defined we started brainstorming over what other services could our store offer to the customers? We narrowed our focus down to a Book Shop and Flower Shop since these charming, neighborhood fixtures are struggling to survive and rapidly disappearing. Moving forward we are looking to be just as sensitive to our neighbors and neighborhoods as the brand expands, offering different services.
What was important to convey to visitors when they walked in the door? Does each city have a representative look and feel?
A gracious sense of hospitality was what we wanted to convey upon entering 5th Avenue with the vestibule acting as a transitional space between the busy commercial street and the serenity of the residential interior inside. This is a place where one can begin to decompress, start to smell our favorite candle burning, see a well-curated stack of books and shed their bags or umbrella just as you would entering a friend’s home. The staff is very welcoming to our clients, knowing many locals ‘by name‘ as you would expect in a neighborhood boutique. Their genuine generosity is a hallmark of the brand and that can be found country-wide.
How did the concept evolve? You can pick up fresh flowers, a great coffee table book and meet a friend for coffee-- why were these various aspects important to the overall experience as a destination?
The Turn of the Century Department Store was not just a concept form an aesthetic point of view, but more of a concept regarding ‘Customer Service’ and servicing the neighborhood. We wanted Fifth Avenue to be a destination where you could spend the day with your family, friends, co-workers and even the occasional dog or two. Using this concept allows for Club Monaco to also define new ‘shops’ that feature new collaborations or 3rd party vendors in a fun way be it with interesting visual installations or displayed within vintage cases we find in our travels, like the one I bought in London that now houses our vintage collection of scarves, sunglasses, jewelry and handbags! The Café proved to be an instant success with the locals that live in Gramercy (and beyond) who were desperate for a local coffee shop to call their own. Countless people knocked on the glass storefront the nights leading up to the opening day asking when we were opening!? When they found out that it was the next morning, we seriously had women and men dancing in the street to the good news! Immediately upon opening, customers took to beginning their day at Toby’s Estate as if it was a pre-established daily ritual. Walk into the café at any time of the day and there is a line of customers from various fields of work discussing film, art, politics, food….it is an impressive mix of customers that choose to get their coffee at Toby’s! It doesn’t hurt either that the cafe is filled with daylight, fresh flowers, international news and a painting we commissioned by a local artist of the Flat Iron Building that proudly hangs on the wall.
What are some key design elements that you have carried through the stores around the country?
Classic architectural elements like Crown, Panel and Base Moldings set the tone for our stores, internationally. Also, traditional devices such as the concept of ‘thresholds’ intentionally frame specific views and let our clients move from one visual experience to the next, allowing the clothing collections to live in their own environment and not compete with each other as they would in an ‘open-plan’. Local artists, artisans and furniture designers are often approached by our interior designers to personalize the store environments. Just by taking the time and talking to these ‘regional cognoscenti’ usually leads to discovering something we never knew about a place that influences our store designs, or connects us to a community of creatives that continue to help define our stores locally, regionally and Internationally.
What is the allure of shopping in a residential-like retail setting?
Slick, sterile and flashy shopping environments have become the ‘norm’ these days, when it comes to urban retail design for Luxury or High Street Brands. I don’t know many people that want to ‘live’ in those types of places, given that the best compliments that we often receive from our clientele after opening a store is how they just want to ‘move in’! I think it came down to defining a comfortable space that allows people to get lost in the storytelling of both the collections and how they are displayed. We work closely with the Visual Merchandisers to build spaces that foster this sense of exploration and daydreaming, which ties back to how the men's and women's fashion directors Caroline and Aaron begin designing their collections with images of nature, interiors, colors, textures... The whole Club Monaco design process sort of comes ‘full-circle’.
What is your favorite part or item in the 5th Ave space?
I would have to say the Conservatory Dressing Room was my favorite space in the store to expose the public to as it used to be hidden in our stock room for years. Sadly, to maintain this structure someone had to put tar on the outside to prevent all the little jewel-like glass blocks from leaking. I can only imagine how wonderful the space must have been with light coming through all those curving pieces of glass! In this dressing room, my favorite item is the extra-large vintage mirror that I personally found in the mud of a Flea Market in the Belgium countryside during a torrential downpour. I was sopping wet and chilled to the bone, but ecstatic with the find! We repaired the frame and had it shipped to New York, where it feels so luxurious to stand in front of on our vintage tailor stand.
From the warm modern light fixtures to vintage display vitrines, to the wheat sheaf-backed gilt chairs, you had a total vision. My favorite piece is the flower artwork by the ladies dressing room-- where did you find that? Will any home items eventually be available for sale if enough people clamor for them?
The Ceramic Floral Wall Hanging was actually commissioned by Club Monaco to help define this dressing room as a historical ‘Conservatory’, complimenting the Pressed Botanical Flowers and Elsworth Kelly line drawings. Stacy Cushman, a local ceramic artist worked with us to create this massive bed of flowers, which is the focal point of the entry to this room.
Because we receive so many requests from our clients about purchasing everything from the art, furnishing and décor used in our stores we are looking at the potential of a home collection. Just last month we launched the concept at our Beach Shop in Southampton, NY to great success! That collection is a mix of vintage finds from French Flea Markets, Bazaars and local artisans that we come into contact with while designing our stores. It has been really fun and exhilarating to see where this home collection can take us!