My recent trip to New York City was an unforgettable experience filled with glamour, inspiration, and celebration as I attended the prestigious 25th Annual PAVE Gala. This event was a dazzling affair bringing together luminaries from the retail and design industries to honor the remarkable achievements of 2023. The evening was an enchanting celebration of creativity and innovation, with awards bestowed upon deserving individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the world of visual merchandising and retail design.
NELSON Teammates Marco Oppici, Elizabeth Zagarello, Faith Huddleston, and Randy Ng.
At the heart of the gala, the PAVE Rising Star, PAVE Educator of the Year, PAVE Global Window Awards, The Sargenti Scholarship + Experience, The Bish Creative Point-of-Purchase Scholarship + Experience, and VMSD’s Excellence in Visual Merchandising awards shone brilliantly, recognizing excellence in various facets of the industry. It was truly inspiring to witness the passion and dedication of those honored, reaffirming the industry’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of design and retail experiences. Learn more about the winners here.
While in the bustling city, I couldn’t resist exploring some of the most captivating retail experiences that have been capturing the attention of consumers. From innovative flagship stores of iconic brands to immersive pop-up shops and concept stores, New York City continues to be a dynamic playground for retail experimentation. These experiences serve as a testament to the ever-evolving nature of the industry, where storytelling, technology, and creativity converge, creating unforgettable moments for shoppers. This trip to New York was not only a celebration of PAVE’s remarkable journey but also a glimpse into the future of retail, where innovation and inspiration are at the forefront of the consumer’s journey.
I thought I would share some of the “December Delights” with you and the impression that the experience had on me.
Top of mind is Tiffany’s Jewel Box on 5th Avenue. I felt like a guest at an elegant and endless party with an atmosphere of ethereal daytime lighting that reflected off the mirrored ceiling and seemed to stop time. Champagne was served while shoppers browsed, and animations of digital birds flew on the interior windows, disguising the outside world and plunging guests further into the jewel box fantasy. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was celebrated, and museum-like vitrines uncovered the first scripts and attire of Audrey Hepburn in the iconic movie. Fixtures resembled art, and each of the six floors had its own personality and delights to discover, merchandised impeccably by style and price point. I realized quickly that people dressed up for this destination – a new New York City spot to see and be seen.
At the Banana Republic Home pop-up in Soho, the overall impression was “Go Banana Republic!” I witnessed a woman taking pictures and we both agreed that this was not what we were expecting. “Can you believe this is Banana Republic?!” Upon entry a suspended floral arrangement took center stage and dainty baby’s breath spilled out seemingly growing up the walls. Each vignette was complete with BR editorial stories and immaculate attention to detail. A metal mesh liquor bar was featured and, unlike most pop-ups, there appeared to be no expense spared in its execution. Downstairs the brand celebrated women with projected stories and dialogue about the makers. The emphasis was on how the light fixtures were handmade, each one unique. They were displayed in shipping crates – but lit – a nod to how far they traveled and how beautifully they’ve arrived.
The new Crate and Barrel store in SoHo has been described as “a digital twin with Matterport-like technology” to instantly update the virtual store space with the physical – in real time. Many of the historic building’s original architecture was maintained with the original neoclassical columns creating a long linear journey throughout the space. The store was impressive, feeling light, bright, textural, and modern, far less residential than a typical Crate and Barrel. Sight lines were clearly part of the strategy, and their products were glitter on the ornament.
The new Madewell Denim Atelier on 5th Avenue boasted appointment-only sessions including wine and other beverages alongside customized service to provide a one-of-a-kind fit to a one-of-a-kind body. What I noticed the most was the use of trendy saturated colors that I couldn’t stop staring at. I wanted to capture the backwrap wall hue in a tube of lipstick, and add the cubby etagere color to my eyeshadow palette. A beautiful lounge space was welcoming with books and magazines that rounded out the lifestyle brand’s intention to connect on many levels with their customer.
The balloon museum on Pier 36 brought inflatable art to the spotlight featuring 20 international artist installations within 12 experiential, insanely cool “rooms”. Starting outside in a playground of colorful inflatable “igloos” by artist Camilla Falsini the adventure flip flops between analog and digital immersions. I fell in love with the blinking garden creatures who communicated with otherworldly sounds through the bubble they lived in. In another room, bubbles filled the air, inflated with dry ice – taking popping bubbles to a whole other level! With my retail hat always on, I noticed there was less of an emphasis of product souvenirs of the experience that I’ve seen at Color Factory and Museum of Ice Cream. It did end with an opportunity to buy a flower bouquet (made up of balloons, of course) but was a side bar to the end that led to a selfie museum filled with individual scenic backdrops for social media.
But hurry, the balloon museum exhibit only lasts until January 14th.
Lastly, I never visit New York in December without a visit to Bergdorf to see their stunning holiday windows. “Isn’t it Brilliant” was the show-stopping theme for the window stories and they had all the bells and whistles that we’ve come to expect from the luxury brand. Designers featured in each window included Thom Browne, C. D. Greene, Balmain, Rodarte, Alexander McQueen, Naeem Khan, Simone Rocha, Jil Sander, Christopher John Rogers, and Rabanne. My favorite was “The Brainstorm” filled with neon signs shaped in more ways than you can imagine. The lights surrounded a casually posed mannequin with a grad cap on, depicting the shouting messages coming at us from all angles as we try to just think. In another window, a live pianist played, and another mannequin hung upside down like sparkling stars in “Star Power.” No matter how hard the Bergdorf design team works to bring this magic to life, they continue to surpass expectations and surprise us each year.
With so much to see and do in New York, I hope this recap provides a few ideas on how to prioritize your next visit or inspires you to explore new and evolving retail experiences in your areas.