Q&A with Charles Sparks

The award-winning designer shares insight into the transformation of Macy’s women’s shoe department at the Herald Square flagship
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Posted March 1, 2013

Starting in January 2011, Charles Sparks, ceo, president and corporate creative director, Charles Sparks + Co. (Westchester, Ill.), undertook the task of transforming the women’s shoe department at Macy’s Herald Square into a global destination for heels, flats, boots and more. Here, the designer weighs in on the project.

VMSD: In setting out to create the world’s largest shoe floor in the world, where do you start?

Charles Sparks: We had to understand the overall goal of Macy’s and their vision for Herald Square and the future department store. They wanted to simultaneously embrace the heritage of Macy’s, pay tribute to the building architecture and incorporate technology. Above and beyond, they wanted to improve the customer experience. We did global research, we flew to Selfridges in London and to other stores getting attention to compare and see what they were doing. We knew we could eclipse on size because we were adding 65,000 square feet to the department.

VMSD: So what did you focus on to improve the customer experience?

CS: In the old format, shoes were on multiple floors and it was difficult to navigate. So we decided to move everything to the second floor and then we started with vertical transportation, adding two new elevators that go from the main level to the second floor. Thinking about the infrastructure, all of it had to be evaluated, moved and new electrical closets and HVAC systems installed. It was a complete gut to the walls.

VMSD: How did you embrace the history of Herald Square while giving it a modern facelift?

CS: The objective was to restore the historic fabric and make designs that reflect our time with glass, light and media. One example is the columns, which have been artfully encased to reference the fluted columns of a bygone era.

VMSD: This volume of visitors to this store is extraordinary. How did that affect materials selection?

CS: Materials had to be of the highest performance standards. We used unexpected materials, such as porcelain veneer panels normally used on building exteriors in the portal areas between the four grand halls. Seating fabric contains performance ratings of at least 100,000 double-rub test durability. For the flooring, we looked at art museums and decided on a wood floor in a herringbone pattern because it would look as though it had been there forever and the attractiveness of the patina appearance in the long term would be better compared to stone or porcelain. Carpets are inset throughout the sales area to help shape the flow of traffic and provide comfort.

VMSD: How does this project reflect an evolution in department store design?

CS: One area where that can be seen is in the seating strategy. There were two schools of thought here. The vendors wanted separations between people, while others said the space needed to be more open and bench-like. We decided to introduce a variety of options and that gave us another tool of scale in the space. There’s an enormous seat count here, so we used bold furniture and we scaled it up.

VMSD: Reflecting on this project, which was unveiled last summer, what’s the biggest benefit you see?

CS: The increased visibility and connectivity of the shoe floor. We also had a 50 percent increase in product, translating to 300,000 pairs of shoes on the new floor.

For more on Macy’s Herald Square, check out VMSD’s February issue or click here.