BHLDN, Chicago

The second BHLDN boutique from Urban Outfitters brings ultra-femme event wear to Chicago.
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Posted August 1, 2012
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If a three-week European furniture tour sounds like your dream job, then Kristin Norris is someone you should envy.

“We went to Vienna, Prague and Budapest for store design inspiration,” says Norris, chief creative officer for Anthropologie (Philadelphia). During the trip, she was serving as managing director for BHLDN, Urban Outfitters’ newest brand focusing on apparel and accessories for special events.

A hyper-feminine sister brand to Anthropologie, BHLDN combines the latter’s quirky eclecticism with everything femme, frilly and floral. Along with wedding dresses, the brand’s second boutique – a two-level, 8500-square-foot space in Chicago – showcases special-occasion attire, shoes, accessories, intimates, home decor and even stationery.

Inspired by vintage, bohemian styles, the niche brand’s space is where a woman “goes for any occasion in her life, when she needs to have that really special look or card or pretty shoes or something to put in her hair,” says Ashley Gehman, development fixture manager, Urban Outfitters.

A BHLDN shopper is savvy, independent, confident, creative and artistic, says Elizabeth Cooksey, director of stores for BHLDN. “She’s not a conformist.” Accordingly, the store is deliberately set apart from other bridal shops clustered in Chicago’s Gold Coast historic district.

The design of the space further departs from what’s expected in the event/bridal wear category. Instead of racks of dresses set along perimeter walls, BHLDN has “the look of a tablescape environment,” says Cooksey, referring to carefully curated, cross-merchandised table displays, which are separated by theme, from ladylike and tailored to bohemian, romantic and feminine.

The store environment incorporates 40 custom fixtures and 20 reproductions of found and antique furniture based on the European trip. “We were drawn to the proportions, simple and elaborate mix of decorations and the art nouveau use of nature, which really informed the femininity of our store design,” Norris explains. Designers balanced this with a mix of modern furniture and fixtures, as in the bridal dressing rooms, which juxtapose 1970s-inspired smoked-glass tables with hand-carved French settees.

The second level is divided into smaller suites and showrooms laden with intimate tabletop cases. There are designated parlors for hairpieces, jewelry and accessories, intimates and decor, with each space given its own personality that plays on one part of the BHLDN color palette: blue, gray, soft pinks and a creamy, celestial taupe.

For example, in the blue-walled accessories salon, oversized angel wings set a romantic, theatrical tone. The space is bedecked with three-legged stools, a navy yard sofa, glass jewelry cases and touches of ivory and marble.

A little over half of the store’s business comes from appointments, including bridal consultations. Toward the back of the second floor, a long hallway leads to three bridal suites, which represent a departure from typical, wall-of-white bridal dress presentations.

“When you walk in, it’s like a big party,” Gehman says. “It’s fun and accessible, but also really approachable.”

Individually posed mannequins in a subdued, slate-gray finish contrast with decadent, flowing gowns. More than 20 mannequins grouped conversationally in the second floor’s mirror-lined bridal showroom invite shoppers to mingle among them.

“You can reserve a suite and have the day of your life, or you can just wander in, touch everything and interact, or not,” Gehman says. “It was designed so that you feel inspired.”

Retailer and Designer: Urban Outfitters Inc., Philadelphia

Architect: Davy A. Levy and Assoc., Akron, Ohio

General Contractor: Murray Costello Construction Inc., Fort Myers, Fla.

Audio/Visual: PlayNetwork, Redmond, Wash.

Fixtures, Furniture: Fleetwood Fixtures, Leesport, Pa.

Lighting: Outcast Studio, Philadelphia

Mannequins/Forms: Goldsmith, New York

Signage/Graphics: US Sign and Mill, Fort Myers, Fla.

Wallcoverings: Maya Romanoff, Skokie, Ill.

Photography: Derek Henderson and Samuel Nixon, Sydney, Australia