Multiplication Tables *
One design, times many locations—Richter + Ratner tries to solve the financial-aesthetic conundrum
Fred A. Bernstein -- Interior Design, 1/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Asked to design the first free-standing Clarins cosmetics store, in New York, Emmanuelle Degonzague mixed white tiles and frosted glass—recalling the lab of company founder Jacques Courtin-Clarins—with shelves of red lacquer to impart a high-fashion gloss. The store's unveiling was a big deal for the 37- year-old Parisian designer. And it will be an even bigger deal for her if Clarins follows through on plans for a global rollout.
Future stores will be designed in collaboration with a team at L'Occitane, Clarins's partner in the venture. Degonzague is working on a SoHo location and will be compensated for her efforts, but she won't get paid for the replication of her concept, which is the property of Clarins.
When Richter + Ratner, the construction-management company responsible for many of the world's most beautiful retail interiors, convened designers for a roundtable, the topic of royalties came up over and over. Many designers say that, if a store concept is used again, they ought to get paid again. When they don't, they feel robbed. But since the robber is a client, they can't speak about the problem on the record. "They're never going to give you royalties, no matter what," says one architect whose work in London is well known. They do, however, give him other jobs, which is why he won't give his name for attribution.
Asked if he knows any designers who've seen their retail concepts rolled out by other firms, president Michael Ratner can list practitioners "on one side of this issue or the other." His roster, which goes on for several pages, includes Michael Gabellini, whose original Ferragamo boutique in Venice is now being adapted, with Richter + Ratner as general contractor for the U.S. offshoots by Janson Goldstein.
Surely Gabellini, an industry superstar, was paid handsomely, as were the architect and designer of Asprey's New York flagship, Lord Norman Foster and David Mlinaric. Design royalty may get design royalties. But hardly anyone wields the clout of a Gabellini, Foster, or Mlinaric.
Still, New York attorney Caryn Leland offers some hope if a designer is reasonably well known or highly desired. "I can use that as leverage to negotiate either a larger design fee, or a 'repeat fee,'" she says. "Usually, it's graduated: So much for one to five stores, less for five to 15."
Mark Friedlander, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in construction, says there's no legal reason not to ask for royalties. It's simply a question of negotiating power. "Companies with multiple locations are going to be aware of this issue. And they're going to drive a harder bargain than the designer," he says. Whatever intellectual-property rights the designer may have, he adds, are likely to be "contracted away." (On the bright side, designers can ask the client to indemnify them against claims pertaining to subsequent stores.)
In addition, it's relevant that compensation is usually based on construction costs, so the designer who does the working drawings can expect to get paid more than the designer who formulated the original concept. Plus, copyright law protects expression rather than ideas.
Out-bargained designers can only hope that the trend toward Banana Republic–like standardization has peaked. A hopeful sign, some say, is that Anthropologie, the Philadelphia-based purveyor and manufacturer of clothing and home furnishings, is giving stores different looks, courtesy of Pompei A.D.
Anthropologie president Glen Senk isn't heralding the imminent end of the cookie-cutter era, though. For one thing, his company will finish the year with 51 stores—compared to Gap's 1,427 in the U.S. alone. For another, different designs were a necessity for Anthropologie. "We look for architecturally distinguished buildings," he explains, "and that means adapting to the surroundings."
Adapting to surroundings is also a talent that some designers possess in greater measure. Ratner points out that not everyone with an idea for a store really wants to produce reams of working drawings: "Some firms are good at conceptualizing. Others are good at execution."
The conceptualizers, he says, "will come to a site and say, 'Change this.'" Which costs the client time and money. It would be impossible for a large-scale retailer to handle that kind of creative intervention at every location. So there's a need for designers who can translate ideas into bricks and mortar.
It's a question, Ratner suggests, of designers knowing what they do best—and playing to those strengths.
Emmanuelle Degonzague designed the first freestanding Clarins cosmetics store, in New York.
Her tables feature detachable tops in lacquer and bubinga.
She evoked "laboratory" with the concrete of the floor and the frosted glass of the walls.
Pompei A.D.'s 51 locations for Anthropologie include Hollywood.
The store occupies a new building.