Dressed For Success pix
At Ann Taylor in New York, HOK made function look as good as fashion
Elizabeth Wine -- Interior Design, 4/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Mannequins for Ann Taylor Stores.
The frosted-glass enclosure of the executive boardroom, used by both divisions.
One of two half-size mock boutiques.
The accessories team's "town square."
The 175-seat lunchroom.
A photo shoot in progress.
The limed-oak shelf characterizing all 10 elevator lobbies.
Reception's custom desk, constructed of lacewood veneer and stainless steel.
More room for garment racks.
|Like many New Yorkers, Ann Taylor had space issues: specifically, not enough of it. Cubicles were cramped, with claustrophobic tall dividers. Natural light was in short supply. Storage rooms were crammed with racks of clothes and boxes of accessories. If employees needed an item from the rear, the whole room had to be emptied.
Some of the problems had relatively easy fixes. HOK, the firm chosen to design a new headquarters, helped select a Times Square building with lots of floor-to-ceiling windows. And size jumped to 300,000 square feet from 143,000. That meant three full floors apiece for the company's two divisions, Ann Taylor Stores and Ann Taylor Loft.
These two zones share certain characteristics. HOK designed a kit of parts that allows employees to configure their own workstations. Each staffer got the same items, all of them on castors: a table, a file cabinet, a cart, and a screen with a tack surface. On all floors, HOK also shortened cubicles to chest height and left open space between groups of cubicles, creating a "town square" for members of a design team.
With the focus on creative people, one might expect bold colors or other bells and whistles. Not at Ann Taylor's beige-and-white headquarters, which was designed not to dazzle but to serve as a blank canvas. "The color is in the clothes. Color on the walls would be a distraction," says HOK director of design and senior principal Rick Focke. A minimal aesthetic is apparent as soon as you step off the elevator: Even the vestibules' limed-oak ledges—intended for mannequins—remain resolutely bare.
The overall emphasis on functionality plays out in different ways in the two zones, as befitting two labels with distinct personalities. Ann Taylor Stores dresses career women with classic tastes, and the signature look is a suit—a lightweight wool outfit in neutral Rattan, for example. Meanwhile, the Ann Taylor Loft customer has a more relaxed lifestyle and more interest in fashion. She's likely to be wearing a shrug cardigan, denim gaucho pants, and boots.
Fittingly, the head designers for these two areas are themselves a study in opposites, a contrast reflected by their respective environments. Michael Smaldone of Ann Taylor Stores runs a department epitomizing artistic disarray—a riot of cloth, paper, beads, and buttons. Ann Taylor Loft floors, presided over by Shari Hershon, are clean and crisp, with not so much as a swatch out of place. HOK's task was to lay out each department to suit such different work styles and habits.
"The thing that was most important to me was to make sure the flow of the space was congruous with our design cycle," Smaldone says. The corner where he works is the starting point, housing what he calls the "front end of the design process." His own office overflows with books on fashion, architecture, photography, and film; the nearby library stocks color swatches, fabric, buttons, trim, beading, and lace. Because he considers the print-pattern and fabric groups crucial to the birth of ideas—"They're my R&D team"—those people are next door.
Also near Smaldone's office is the concept room, where designers can pin up sketches and fabric swatches. A larger creative room, at the other end of the Ann Taylor Stores floor, is used mainly for displaying a finished line to merchandisers and executives.
By comparison, Ann Taylor Loft's concept room and creative room are next to Hershon's office. The concept room is where she and a few senior designers stock fabric and work out general themes for a line before others get involved. The bigger creative room functions as a glorified conference room.
Ann Taylor Loft's library and the print, pattern, and fabric team are on the other side of Hershon's floor. That way, the team can be closer to groups it works most closely with, such as sportswear. "The fact that people are far away doesn't bother me," Hershon says. "I enjoy the idea that I have to take walks through the office. I try to be very visible." Collaborative is a word she uses repeatedly.
Some of the most important collaborations take place on a common floor where both Ann Taylor Stores and Ann Taylor Loft enjoy the luxury of a half-size mock boutique, complete with racks and mannequins. These real-world settings let designers and marketers try out ideas. "It gives us a great advantage to walk in and see if the clothes work the way we envisioned," Smaldone says. "So if something's not working, we can change it."