Launched a little more than a decade ago in 2004, the Houston-based retailer Charming Charlie has been ramping up its national and global expansion. With more than 350 locations throughout the U.S., Canada and the Middle East, the retailer decided it was high time to make its debut in New York.
In the past, Charming Charlie has not been an urban brand,” says New York-based Tom Pulk, senior associate vp, CallisonRTKL (Dallas), who explains that its typical demographic includes suburban mothers, daughters and businesswomen.
But being suburban-focused doesn’t equate to being out-of-tune with the latest styles. The brand has been covered in a range of fashion publications, which regularly feature the retailer’s new collections and accessories. With this exposure, paired with the company’s fashion-centric mindset, it made sense to debut a new flagship in the fashion capital of the U.S.
Strategically situated between the Empire State Building and the event-friendly Bryant Park, the store is a convenient stop for tourists walking Fifth Avenue. Pulk and his team were challenged to reimagine who a New York Charming Charlie customer could be, as compared to the brand’s traditional clientele. Four groups were identified, including the New Jersey mother and daughter, the New York tourist, the Upper West Side mother and the New York businesswoman. With these new targets in mind, the objectives for the accessory retailer’s Big Apple transformation were clearly in place.
Now the largest store in Charming Charlie’s portfolio, the 16,000-square-foot flagship is a sprawling landscape of color-coordinated displays against a bright white backdrop. New York-specific merchandise is on display near the main staircase, while the rest of the collections are neatly organized throughout. Playing off of the brand’s color-blocking approach, each fitting room in the store is drenched in one particular hue, including red, pink and yellow, from the carpet to the seating to the wallpaper.
“Because the scale is so large … we wanted the store to not take itself too seriously, so there are quirky details [throughout],” says Pulk. “We envisioned an aspirational fashion-forward New York character, with the idea in mind that these women could come and have a little piece of that excitement. It’s about New York, it’s about fun, it’s about fashion.”
A central design feature is the main staircase connecting the store’s levels, described as a series of platforms meant to create a more “leisurely and fantastic experience” for shoppers, as well as imbue a “‘Gone with the Wind’ glamour,” Pulk explains.
The store also features a private meeting area near the fitting rooms, specifically for fashion magazine editors to browse the latest collections in store. The area’s large pink doors are typically open (although they can be closed for private meetings) so customers can be a part of the action. “Most of the time, it’s open, and customers can see it; they can watch the show,” Pulk says.
Overall, the store projects an edgy, New York vibe derived from Charming Charlie’s already-zany “Southern charm” and vibrant motifs, Pulk says.
The project wasn’t without its challenges, however: Sometimes boasting upwards of 1000 SKUs on a single display, Charming Charlie’s amount of product could become overwhelming for shoppers, and visual noise had to be kept to a minimum.
“The spaces have to be incredibly rational, clean and understandable; you have to choreograph everything very carefully,” Pulk says.
To achieve this, the design team implemented tightly organized vignettes around the store, while also embracing the “notion of abundance” with the scope of product. The large amount of color in the space was balanced using neutral displays and backgrounds, while the lighting around the vignettes was designed to be flexible so beams can be adjusted to focus on certain zones, as necessary.
Due to the amount of product the store sells every day, not to mention each hour, a mechanical conveyor belt system was also installed for moving merchandise, whether into the store’s basement level for storage or upstairs for display.
In the end, Charming Charlie is meant to be more than just a shop, but rather, a hub for the brand: “Bringing the editorial world into the store, [and] making the whole business of fashion accessories become part of this one location, is really something that makes it larger than just a brick-and-mortar store,” says Pulk. “It makes the store alive.”
Charming Charlie, Houston
Design and Architecture
CallisonRTKL, Dallas: Tom Pulk, design director; Leslie Ann Chiu, lead designer; Laura Lewi, interior designer
Architectural Systems Inc., New York
Ceramiche Marca Corona S.p.A., Sassuolo, Italy
Osborne & Little, New York
Phillip Jeffries Ltd., Fairfield, N.J.
Designers Guild, London
ThyssenKrupp, Essen, Germany
Exterior Signage, Signage/Graphics, Lightboxes
Big Apple Lights, New York
Michilli Inc., New York
Photography: Courtesy of CallisonRTKL, Dallas