The newest Express store concept may have debuted in Pennsylvania’s King of Prussia Mall, but that doesn’t mean the specialty retailer thinks of it as a “mall store.”
The goal for the Columbus, Ohio-based company was to create a fashion destination in a mall setting that could easily be translated into a street-level store in any metropolitan retail center.
So the 13,000-square-foot space is a compilation of the best the retailer knows. Still targeting the 20- to 30-year-old demographic, Express wanted the presentation of its lifestyle classifications – work, party, denim and casual – to be crystal clear, but also fun and edgy.
Express partnered on the project with the Tokyo-based design firm Wonderwall Inc. The symmetrical and rectilinear feel of the space offers a subtle reference to Japanese design. Clean lines define the environment, from the horizontals of the mirrored stainless-steel cashwrap to the metal light troughs above.
The selling space is organized into distinct room settings, highlighting the four lifestyle groupings, each room punctuated by illuminated, rounded, glass mannequin vitrines, complete with environmental and fashion graphics.
Texture and materials play an important role in the new concept. “We wanted uptown elements in a downtown loft,” says Express ceo Michael Weiss. Materials span the spectrum from casual to luxurious – and from urban to rural. For example, poured concrete, a decidedly urban touch, pairs with reclaimed wood from an old barn to provide a raw finish to the floor. The elegant look of carrera marble defines the countertops and fixture trims.
A new fixture package also relies on a variety of finishes and surface treatments to project the desired refined brand image. A two-step mortar process offers a wall finish that looks like concrete, but with a softer textural feel. Side walls have a complementary white gloss finish, with uplighting throwing a slight glow on the merchandise. In contrast, dark velvet curtains embellish the wall behind the cashwrap and along the denim room. The result is a modern space with raw undertones and elegant highlights.
Each room setting is highlighted by a long runway-like table, fully merchandised, with groupings of mannequins marching along the tops. Half the mannequins face one direction and half look the other. No matter where she’s standing, the customer always faces a projection of fashion.
“Everything sells from these tables,” says Michele La Grego, Express’ senior vp of visual merchandising and store design. “Customers swarm around them like honeybees around a hive.”
The mall windows are 5 feet deep and each window has a magnetic back wall for a clean application of graphics. One of the windows offers a clear sightline into the denim department, a dual-gender area featuring another hot zone table and the name “denim lab” articulated in lights above. Metal ramp boards highlight merchandise on the tables beneath 50 overhead chrome lights.
The Express crowd tends to be young, so high-tech plasma screens are integrated into the architecture. The content, controlled from Express’ Columbus headquarters, features promotions and live-stream fashion shows. Customers can also go online in the store to access e-commerce through the Express website.
La Grego says shoppers keep asking if this is the same merchandise as in other Express stores. The answer is yes. It’s just expressed in a different way.
Retailer: Express, Columbus, Ohio – Michele La Grego, senior vp, visual merchandising & store design; Stephen Margaritis, director, visual merchandising & store design; Steve Calhoun, manager, visual merchandising & store design; Virginia Watson, project specialist, visual merchandising & store design; Deborah Urton, vp, store design & construction; Tom LaPorte, director
Design Firm: Wonderwall Inc., Tokyo – Masamichi Katayam, principal designer; Hiroyuki Isobe, project leader; Yohei Sakamaki, assistant designer; Sho Tanioka, assistant
Architect: Shremshock Architects, Inc.
General Contractor: Commercial Contractors, Inc., Grand Haven, Mich.
Wood Floor: Architectural Systems Inc., New York;
Concrete Floor: Preferred Inc., Ft. Wayne, Ind.;
Rugs: Atelier Lapchi, Portland, Ore.
Lighting: Lighting Capitol Light & Supply Co.
Signage and Graphics: Ruggles Sign Co., Versailles, Ky.
Mannequins: Mondo Mannequins, Hicksville, N.Y.
Fixtures/Hardware: Quantum Fine Casework, Weston, Fla.
Sound System: DMX, Autsin, Texas
Video System: Seura Inc., Green Bay, Wis.
Plaster Wall Finish: American Clay Products, Albuquerque, N.M.; Pymer Plastering Inc., Columbus
Visual PropsL DK Display Corp., New York
Art Props: Danielle Julian Norton, Columbus
Storefront: Lambert Sheet Metal Inc., Columbus
Drapery: Silver Threads Inc., Plain City, Ohio