Godiva, the world-renowned chocolatier founded in Belgium in 1926, is expanding its already broad international reach. With new store openings in the Middle East and Asia, including Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Turkey, Japan and Hong Kong; and a boutique in London’s famed Harrods Department Store; the New York-based company is covering the world in chocolate. With a three-point mission statement proudly proclaiming Godiva “thrills the senses, sets the gold standard and is irresistibly charming,” its challenge was clear: how to translate these attributes across a multi-cultural world.
More often than not, there is a cultural divide that determines the success or failure of an international initiative. And, while local customs and cultures must be understood and appreciated, one common thread that Godiva executives recognized is everyone, regardless of nationality, loves chocolate.
Linda Lombardi, vp of global store design and visual merchandising for Godiva, says, “We want to provide our customers with the ultimate chocolate experience.” Godiva accomplished this in all of their new international venues by recognizing the aesthetic quality of their product. Lombardi adds, “A vital component of our design strategy is to always allow customers to see [the] chocolate first.”
Accordingly, a newly developed table housing a chocolate truffle case immediately engages the customer from any angle of approach to the store. This welcoming focal point presents product as works of art under glass, encouraging customers to create their own assortment of “chocolate jewels,” and also allows guests to view the culinary artistry of each individual chocolate truffle. The lavish tabletop is made of Carrera marble, and its espresso-stained wood legs are inspired by imagery from the brand’s Belgian heritage.
Each new location offers a different footprint, and different cultural considerations. The Riyadh store is the largest in the fleet: At 5000 square feet, it features soaring 16-foot ceilings and the challenge of two imposing structural columns in the center of the space. Lombardi’s team seized the opportunity to inject fun into the environment by adding a semi-spiral staircase ascending from the retail space to the full café, with a private VIP dining room, on the second level. The columns were painted deep brown, and resemble two oversized chocolate bars. The store also features the company’s largest dipping station, where dates are the dipping fruit of choice, conforming to local agricultural availability and culture.
The Galleria store in Abu Dhabi is an open-air full-service café with a kitchen in the center. A culinary spin is always integral to Godiva’s design approach, so, in the Galleria, the seating was upholstered in a cinnamon-colored fabric.
“We have to be sensitive to the ways in which a culture speaks to us,” says Lombardi. “Every culture speaks in a different way.” Before pencil hits paper, Lombardi and her design partners, David Ashen and Jhipo Hong from Dash Design (New York), undergo an intense cultural immersion, talking to people in stores, in hotels and voraciously studying each country.
Experiential design is often predicated on cultural nuances. In Riyadh, for example, customers frequently travel through stores in large groups. Standard ADA aisle widths had to be abandoned for larger six-foot aisles, while the Lady Godiva logo, typically mounted on a focal wall, was deemed inappropriate for certain locations.
While being local-specific is important, it’s vital to remain true to the brand. Accordingly, each location features a wall clad in Godiva’s iconic “chocolate brick.” Additionally, gold ceiling treatments holistically connect to the chocolatier’s recognizable gold packaging.
Each new store is a theater, and the actors on stage are offerings of chocolate in all sizes and shapes. The perimeter walls tell strong merchandise stories that include truffles, biscuits, cookies and wrapped chocolate. While Godiva has journeyed all over the world spreading its delights, a visit to any of its stores worldwide is still the same journey to the ultimate chocolate experience.
Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., New York
Godiva International, London: Daphné Dutilleux, store design and creative direction
Dash Design, Long Island City, N.Y.: Jhipo Hong, creative director; Molly Lawenda, project designer
Bond Interiors, Dubai (Abu Dhabi Galleria)
Ebonite Group of Companies, Dubai (Abu Dhabi Nation Towers)
Subgate Interior & Design LLC, Dubai (Riyadh)
Photography: Courtesy of Godiva Chocolatier Inc.