Fashionably famous

As the largest Harvey Nichols store outside of the UK opened its doors last month at Mall of the Emirates, all eyes were on how the designers played with the image of such a famous brand

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  May 7, 2006

|~|Harvey-Nichols-Body1.jpg|~||~|Clients don’t come much more prolific than Harvey Nichols, and US-based interior design firm, Callison, was entrusted to create an apt Middle East flagship for the brand synonymous with cutting-edge designer fashions. Bryan Gailey, associate principal, Callison Architecture Inc., explains: “The client wanted a Harvey Nichols store that embodied the sleek and modern attributes of the Harvey Nichols brand, but interpreted for the Dubai retail marketplace. This entailed designing a store that highlighted luxury brands in a memorable environment, one that contained a certain number of ‘WOW factors’.”

The central escalator atrium, with its strong structural elements, diagonal lines and minimalist detailing is an example of Callison incorporating these memorable ‘WOW factors’ into the design. Coupled with the circular light panels in the atrium ceiling, the effect is undoubtedly impressive. “This is actually my favourite bit of the design, with its dramatic three-level volume, standing at the heart of the store. Customers travelling up and down are given views onto each level that are dramatic, enticing, and hopefully encourages them to explore the entire store,” Gailey says.

One often assumes that designing for an existing brand, means working within a framework fraught with boundaries, which provides minimal scope for ingenuity, but Gailey explains this project demanded individuality: “It was actually easier to design because of Harvey Nichols’ well-established brand recognition. We were able to spend time in the Knightsbridge and Manchester stores to get a feel for the brand, the attitude and the design aesthetic. This helped inform our design for the store, although we took many departures from the UK design to create something unique for the Dubai environment. Most importantly, we wanted to maintain the excitement and buzz that Harvey Nichols is known for in the retail arena.”

||**|||~|Harvey-Nichols--body2.jpg|~||~|Of course, certain brand requirements had to remain to retain company standards and corporate image. However, there are only two departments in the Dubai store that people would instantly recognize as Harvey Nichols: the “Harvey Nichols Food Hall” and “Beyond Beauty”, both zones that differentiate Harvey Nichols in the retail marketplace. These departments were heavily referenced to the UK standards. In all other areas of the store, environments were designed that supported the cache of the exclusive designer merchandise being showcased, filtered through the lens of the Harvey Nichols brand.

Callison created rooms or halls as a means to group similar merchandise attitudes. For example, on the first floor, women’s fashion, there are five distinct areas: Designer RTW, Bridge RTW, Contemporary Designers, Intimate Apparel and Casual/Denim. Each area has its own architecture and finishes to delineate the space. Definition was also achieved by the layering of flooring patterns and ceiling treatments. For a sense of fluidity, portals were created from one area to another. There are no aisles; rather, it’s a much more organic approach that allows shoppers to get close to merchandise and interact with each product in a tactile, sensory way. Everything in the store is custom-designed locally — the furniture, fixtures and display pieces.

The flooring is nearly all hard-surface, such as natural stone, agglomerate tile and wood. “We specified carpet in only a few areas, such as the Ladies’ Shoe Salon and Intimate Apparel. Otherwise, the hard-surface floorings reinforced the bright, glossy and edgy atmosphere of the Harvey Nichols environment,” Gailey explains.

The smooth surfaces also reflect the intentional overly bright lighting that was chosen. With an average of 120 Lux light levels, the lighting is very strong when compared to European standards. Callison used a variety of lighting types to reinforce the differentiation of zones within the store. “Our favourite element is a backlighted stretch matrix ceiling system that allows for glowing, coloured light to wash the space. This adds a lot of visual interest and energy to the space,” he adds.
The furniture selections include modern classic pieces from designers such as Warren Platner and Eero Saarinen, balanced with custom-designed pieces of exaggerated scale and uncommon materials to create a sense of theatrics and drama.

“The main challenge with the design was to incorporate the ability for the store to change. This change could be expressed in the ever-updated presentations of the newest designers and trends, as well as expressing change through visually compelling display windows and merchandise arrangements,” Gailey says. He also took advantage of new technologies to make the store changeable through colour-shifting lighting, animation by flat-screen LCDs, and other assorted sensory effects.

Situated in a prime location in Mall of the Emirates, Harvey Nichols has a highly articulated geometric design of the façade, which is repeated on each of the three levels of the store. The façade presents an outward face of the store to the mall, with large show-windows highlighting the eye-catching displays for which Harvey Nichols is synonymous.
Callison has recently been ranked as the number one retail design firm in the world (World Architecture, January 2006), and its client portfolio includes Gap, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Nike, Guess, Harrods, Seibu in Japan and Aekyung in Korea.

When asked how he approached designing for the Dubai market, Gailey answered: “Designing anywhere in the world requires an understanding of the local culture and the community. Before starting a project, we become fully immersed in the world of the end-user, or in this case, the shopper – their history, culture, sensibilities, and desires. This helps inform our design. When working in the Middle East, we have to be aware of cultural issues such as modesty and privacy. To address these, we incorporated design elements such as full height doors in dressing rooms and restrooms, and frosted glass privacy screening for intimate apparel and the Nail Bar.”

Gailey concludes: “The benchmark for retail in Dubai is very high – so we had to create a store that stood apart from the rest. This challenged us to translate the sleek, compelling modernism of Harvey Nichols to the edgy, trendy character of Dubai.” ||**||

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