San Francisco, CA
Posted October 2, 2001

How do you keep a secret for 150 years? Kiehl's, which began offering skin-care and grooming products in 1851, has long operated in the shadows, elevating its hard-to-find line to cult status. Until now, it has operated a lone retail outlet, in Manhattan's East Village, and its web site, "under development," only offers an 800 number and an online registry card.

But after Kiehl's Since 1851 (its full moniker) was bought last year by L'Oreal, the company has opened a second store, a 1560-square-foot space in San Francisco's tony Pacific Heights, in a vintage Victorian landmark building that survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Old-world wood flooring, white marble countertops, pressed tin ceilings and a lot of stainless steel, glass and wood paneling gives it a 19th Century apothecary feel.

But printed signs, with hand-drawn illustrations by artist Paul Degan, cry out with words such as "gusto" and "excitement." And the store is filled with references to the vigorous lifestyle of the Morse family that owned Kiehl's for about 70 years. An Indian motorcycle once owned by actor Steve McQueen stands in one corner, while posters depicting skiers, mountain climbers, horseback riders and airplane pilots cover the walls. Big band and classical music fills the air, and large-screen monitors display old movies and sporting events.

Open-sell prevails. But mostly, the goods are presented the way you'd present a cult icon -- gently, silently and with respect.

Client: Kiehl's, San Francisco -- Michelle Taylor, president

Architect: Brand Allen Architects Inc., San Francisco - Chris Harrelson, principal-in-charge, designer; Imran Khan, project architect; Brian Nee, design team

General Contractor: Northern Sun Associates, San Francisco

Suppliers: Outwater Plastics Industries, Wood-Ridge, N.J. (tin ceiling material); American Olean Tile Co, Lansdale, Pa. (tile); Pratt & Lambert, Buffalo, N.Y. (paint); IDMD Retail Services, New York (fixturing); Northern Sun Associates, San Francisco (red oak flooring); Sonrisa, New York (furniture); Kiehl's, San Francisco (graphics); Halo Lighting, Elk Grove Village, Ill., Delux, Bell Gardens, Calif., Con-Tech Lighting, Northbrook, Ill., Atlite, Maspeth, N.Y., Hunter Fan Co., Memphis, Tenn. (lighting); Kiehl's, San Francisco (props/decoratives)

Photography: David Livingston for Kiehl's, San Francisco