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DDI Magazine

Clicks to bricks

By Lauren Mitchell, Associate Editor
March 28, 2013

windows
Photo: Courtesy of Piperlime
Piperlime, a division of San Francisco-based Gap Inc., has offered customers a unique mix of products, brands and price points at Piperlime.com since its launch in 2006. This past fall, the popular Web brand hit the streets of New York’s SoHo neighborhood, with its first bricks-and-mortar location at 121 Wooster St. Now, the once online-only retailer welcomes fashionistas to its flagship boutique for a Web-turned-reality retail experience.

The design of the 4,000-sq.-ft. store began with Piperlime Senior Vice President and General Manager Jennifer Gosselin’s idea of a “modern barn” concept. Driven by her vision, the design team started digging into how they would interpret this rustic aesthetic in the store’s urban Manhattan location. “We felt that it would be more of a deconstruction, where it looked like we just took a space, turned it into our own and made it feel like Piperlime,” says Craig Tretta, senior director of creative services for Gap Inc. “We wanted to create a ‘found object’ feel.” The design team left the unit’s pre-existing studs and wood, and painted the walls white, creating a clean, modern space that would let the merchandise tell the brand story.

To make the products really pop, the store features light, sleek, contemporary tables and surfaces designed to “disappear” behind the denim, handbags, sweaters, and shoes galore. LED track lighting built into the existing tin ceiling, which was painted black, further emphasizes the product and punctuates the space. “The lights just kind of blend in, giving the unfinished ceiling a finished look,” Tretta says. “With the white walls and fixtures, it really creates these highs and lows in the state of mind of the store.”

To inject the e-retailer’s dynamic personality into the space, the team abandoned the idea of permanent walls defining spaces, instead letting rolling rack fixtures create perpendicular divisions between the store’s various “shops.” “[Piperlime] is comprised of a lot of different brands pulled together, so there needed to be a flexibility in the space,” says Stephen Brady, executive vice president of creative design and development for Gap Inc. “Things needed to be able to move, grow, contract and expand depending on the story they were telling at that particular time or season.” With moveable fixtures that can quickly transform long feature walls into several smaller vignettes, the store can evolve and keep up with the fast-paced world of its fashion-focused customers.

Amid the rolling rack fixtures, an art-installation-inspired structure pays homage to the retailer’s beginnings and true passion—shoes. The centrally located display makes a dramatic statement and helps to establish the store’s organic flow without obstructing the space, maintaining an open, airy feel with its cutout design. This “transparency,” as Brady describes, is a theme throughout the store that began with the brand’s street presence.

Challenged with what they could do with the storefront, because of the historic nature of the area and the building, the design team decided to treat it like a stage. “We thought it was really important to have the customer see past the display windows and through the shoe sculpture, all the way to the back of the store,” Brady says. “The whole store becomes a story.” The large windows, which also provide ample ambient lighting for the entire space, feature lit platforms. “It’s like a beacon as you’re looking down the street, drawing the customer toward the store,” Tretta adds.

Entering the store, visitors feel as if they’ve literally stepped into Piperlime.com. “The website is modern, but it’s kind of eclectic, too,” Tretta says. “There are these kind of old-school elements, like the way they merchandise the product.” Browsing the racks as they would the Web, shoppers discover “shortcut” vignettes, such as “Girl on a Budget,” where everything is under $100. The e-commerce site’s guest editors, which include Olivia Palermo and Rachel Zoe, also have a store presence with trend “shops” offering their favorite picks. “The store evolved into a portal to the website,” Brady explains. This connection to the brand’s online roots is further reinforced with in-store kiosks that link directly to Piperlime.com, giving shoppers access to additional product online and the ability to place orders in-store.

With its foray into the retail realm, Piperlime now offers shoppers access to their favorite brands and latest trends across multiple channels. While there aren’t currently plans for additional bricks-and-mortar locations, the brand is eager to use this milestone move as an opportunity to really get to know their customer face-to-face. “This is a place where we can interact with the customers, learn from their experience and see how we will really evolve,” Tretta says.