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Mood swing

By Janet Groeber
March 25, 2013

Photo: Deja Vu Studios, Mineola, N.Y.
Aéropostale Inc., a co-ed specialty store chain geared toward teens, operates 995 stores in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. The brand also has gone global with stores in the Middle East, Singapore and Turkey, and additional locations soon to be announced in more countries.

But, despite its global outlook, Aéropostale turned to New York, the very city where it maintains its headquarters, for design inspiration when creating a new concept store.

The new unit—nearing 4,400 sq. ft.—opened last October in Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., and is a 180-degree turn from the former sleek and modern design it replaces there. “Our last prototype was clean and neat,” explains Tim Anderson, Aéropostale’s vice president of store design and construction. The latest concept here adds a bit of grit and texture, more reflective of today’s teen personality.

The new design, dubbed “Studio,” is richly textured, nuanced and punctuated with visuals that portray The Big Apple. There’s a photo of Times Square that can be seen from the vestibule-style entry, where mosaic flooring spells out “established 1987 New York City.” Inside, timeless elements, such as exposed brick, wood flooring and pressed-tin ceilings, work together warmly to highlight Aéropostale’s expanded denim offering, along with yoga togs, loungewear and accessories for her.

The Roosevelt Field store introduces moodier illumination than its previous look, thanks to chandeliers and pendant accent lighting. Gone are the sleek surfaces of the former “Classic” prototype, replaced with time-honored construction materials and salvaged architectural elements echoing New York—most notably fixtures made from wood reclaimed from the Coney Island boardwalk. The brand’s provenance has been stenciled front and center, thus adding a layer of heritage and authenticity to the space.

Montreal-based GH+A, which as been working with Aéropostale since 2008, again collaborated on this concept. “Aéropostale’s founding in New York City is a point of pride they could hang their hat on and own,” says Jonathan Knodell, lead designer with GH+A. “It formed the basis of the design.”

Here, the store’s design team chose to place emphasis on fitting rooms. (Aéropostale made headlines years ago when it used transparent fitting room doors, which became opaque when a customer stepped inside.) This time, seven dressing rooms reinforce a Big Apple aesthetic, supported by references to iconic New York neighborhoods—East Village, Park Slope, SoHo, West Village and Williamsburg. Two located in the middle of the sales floor are more masculine in design, but still unisex, featuring distressed graphic murals of the Brooklyn Bridge, along with a typical Brooklyn streetscape. The full-height murals cover all four walls. Once inside, Knodell says, “The customer experience is truly immersive.”

Female customers will find the five remaining fitting rooms in the back of the store in the “Live, Love, Dream” shop, which is clearly calligraphed on the ceiling in pink and anchored by a human-scaled Statue of Liberty, also pink, and a trompe l’oeil mural. “We wanted [the female customer], whether she was shopping here or at a local mall in Kansas, to be transported to New York City when she enters the fitting rooms,” Knodell explains. Each fitting room is designed around a hypothetical “city girl” who is following a quintessential New York career path, be that artist, photographer, fashion designer, actress or musician. Additionally, placing the fitting rooms away from the store’s front also serves a practical purpose. “When you have a co-ed store, a girl wants her own area where she can shop for things without being so exposed,” Knodell adds.

Customers are encouraged to share their thoughts on a wall of chalkboards, dubbed the “Community Wall.” The “Dream Big” board refers to Aéropostale’s scholarship program, while “Role Models” features a different associate every month, and “Give Back” has information for teens wanting to get involved in charitable and nonprofit causes. There’s also a place for an inspirational quote of the week. When the store opened in October 2012 (Anti-Bullying Month), it featured the words of Lady Gaga: “Don’t you ever let a soul in the world tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.”

Aéropostale brings in some modern touches with several Apple desktops and iPad kiosks for scanning products and reading reviews. “We all know our teen was brought up in a high-tech world, and they gravitate to the iPads,” Anderson explains. The iPads offer “build-your-own-outfit” guides, allowing shoppers to style looks on their own or with sales help, and email them to friends. Customers can access Aéropostale’s e-commerce site in-store to find more sizes and online exclusives. The store’s technology-enabled features also include a crowdsourcing jukebox, where teens can vote for the music played in the store, and iPads in fitting rooms to indulge personal tastes in music.

The dual notions of community and in-store technology have redefined the shopping experience at Aéropostale. “We are the only retailer in our demographic that can truly call New York home, and we love all [that] the city symbolizes,” Anderson says. “The fun and energy of the city inspires us, and we believe those same qualities resonate with our customer.”