LeSportSac's got a brand new bag Ð and a glossy new store
Posted August 29, 2002

The LeSportsac brand was born in 1974 as as functional, durable nylon bag. According to ceo Timothy Schifter, who took over his parents'New York-based business in 1988, the product line of handbags and luggage was more focused on being practical and lightweight than a fashion accessories brand.

"In 1998, we set about repositioning the brand to be casual fashion, with fun and function playing equal parts," explains Schifter. Along with that, LeSportsac launched a lifestyle advertising campaign to engage a new, younger customer to the brand. And, as with any fashion brand, there needed to be a New York flagship to communicate its new direction.

"We wanted to present in one box the entire new face of LeSportsac - the product, visual merchandising, advertising and an architectural environment that would speak to the contemporary nature of the brand," says Schifter.

Schifter approached S. Russell Groves, the New York architect, to design the 2400-square-foot space in a historic Madison Avenue townhouse.

"The LeSportsac product echoed a time when travel opened up to the mass consumer and people started to fly more often," says Groves. "We wanted to harken back to the period of an airport lounge, when travel was exciting and dynamic."

This aerodynamic feeling was evoked in the store through the use of Saarinen tables, George Nelson benches, Barcelona chairs and metal display fixtures. To reflect the company's fold-in-a-pouch bags, Groves used laser-cut and bent sheets of white powdercoated metal to create curvilinear shelving that hooks over the edges of walls, countertops and low wooden storage units. "It operates on the same principle that the bag does - taking something flat and lightweight and transforming it three-dimensionally," says Groves.

A neutral vanilla box was created to contain the constantly changing LeSportsac colors and patterns. "However, an eye-catching French blue floor was developed to speak to LeSportsac's bold colors and sporty lifestyle," says Schifter. This resin epoxy flooring is typically used in warehouses or laboratories because of its durability and ease of maintenance.

"The LeSportsac product itself is vibrant," says Groves, "so the cerulean blue acts as an underlying chord to the symphony of the product."

A wood veneer from VenTec (Chicago) was used along the base of the cabinets to add warmth to the otherwise neutral space. "The idea was to recollect the wood veneer on Sony Trinitron televisions from the 1970s," explains Schifter. "It's another way we reference the past, present and future."

According to Groves, a lot of product needed to be accommodated in a small space. "We had to find a way to make coherent stories and have them all live happily together," says Groves. "So we created a series of bays along the two sides of the stores, broken up by vertical columns of either stock, storage space or mirrors."

Accessory fixtures were developed to display small products like cosmetic bags and wallets. And clear acrylic shelving is used to show other product. Recessed lighting provides a high-color rendition, while pendant-style lamps add to the aerodynamic feel.

To help fully reposition the brand, Schifter has been introducing concepts like the guest designer series. "We're communicating with some of the most creative people from the world of interior design, fashion, art and music, such as Diane Von Furstenberg and Jonathan Adler, to create limited edition collections for LeSportsac each season," says Schifter.

The original idea was to open a few stores in such key markets as the Beverly Center in Los Angeles and Omotesando in Tokyo. But the company has now built a retail infrastructure to roll out two to three stores a year in the U.S. and four stores internationally. LeSportsac also will be opening concept shops in U.S. and Japanese department stores, beginning with Macy's Herald Square.

Client Team: LeSportsac, New York - Timothy Schifter, president and ceo; Paul Sanchez, vp, visual merchandising and store design; Waleska Vega, store design project coordinator

Design Team: S. Russell Groves, New York - S. Russell Groves, principal-in-charge; Daniel Wismer, project manager

Architect: R. Ceretti Associates, New York

Construction: Bahaus Construction, New York

Lighting Consultant: Cooley Monato Studio, New York

Suppliers: E Media Networks, Vancouver (audio/video); Holland & Sherry, New York (fabrics); Visual Accent, Irvine, Calif. (fixturing); Bedrock Resin Corp., Farmingdale, N.Y. (flooring); 5x5 Design Studio, Brooklyn, N.Y. (bench); Knoll Studio, New York (tables); Meisel Visual Imaging, Dallas (graphics); Louis Poulsen, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (interior lamps); RSA Lighting, Chatsworth, Calif. (recessed lighting); VenTec, Chicago (veneers); Jonathan Adler, New York (rugs and pottery)

Michael Weschler, Los Angeles