Thanks to a recent revamp of its interiors by Columbus, Ohio–based strategic brand and design firm Chute Gerdeman, C&A―an upscale store in São Paulo, Brazil―stays ahead of the game as an international fashion leader. The redesigned flagship, housed in the Shopping Center Iguatemi, sets the stage for a unique and luxurious shopping experience. Over three floors, customers encounter bold colors, impressive lighting displays, and a dazzling spiral staircase, but they also experience an effervescence that reflects
Prior to the redesign, C&A’s interiors lacked much visual appeal. As one of the original tenants at Iguatemi, the store had remained relatively true to its 1970s layout. New merchandise was frequently squeezed into the floor plan, turning the store into a disorganized “sea of racks,” says Lynn Rosenbaum, Chute Gerdeman’s vice president of retail environments, recalling the design team’s first visit to the site. “Navigating the layout was very confusing for new shoppers. We wound up completely lost.”
Layout aside, C&A faced a much more prominent problem—the need to cater to a higher tier of shoppers. A new upper middle–class demographic has emerged in São Paulo over recent decades and the Iguatemi mall likewise evolved to feature luxury retailers that appeal to this more affluent demographic.
Chute Gerdeman had worked with C&A on multiple locations and prototypes in Brazil since 2007. Yet the designers knew that this project would be different than anything they had conceptualized before. The 24,130-square-foot store needed a better merchandising layout and strategy to present its assortment of work and lifestyle fashions. More importantly, C&A “needed a more unified, active brand story to stay relevant, to better resonate with the local clientele, and to compete for market share against its high-end neighbors,” says Joanna Felder, Chute Gerdeman’s vice president of intelligence and brand strategy. A Tiffany & Co. store, for example, is located directly across from C&A.
“It was important for us to create a space that was unique and special but would also function well,” Felder says. The challenge was to work around the low, fixed ceilings and concrete stairways to evoke a sense of luxury on a modest budget.
With the intention of capturing the vibrant sensuality of the local culture, the designers focused on making light the central design element. “We established this idea of sunshine pouring down as energy in a shaft of light,” says Jay Highland, Chute Gerdeman’s vice president of brand and marketing. A large spiral staircase, framed by three-story walls covered with LEDs, is an abstract interpretation of the “tunnel of light” concept, and also a vertical wayfinder for shoppers. “It’s a dramatic, physical representation of Brazilian spirit flooding through the space. It’s the first of its kind in South America and a unique icon for the store, transporting shoppers to the different areas of experience and enticing them to the other floors,” Rosenbaum explains.
Floors with themes
While the stairwell became a central beacon, the three sales floors themselves were designed to exude different personalities. To achieve this, the design team themed each floor, strategically placing merchandise categories to best express a story of fashion in real-life scenarios, whether at work or leisure.
Upon entering the store on the first floor, shoppers are greeted by the “sparkle” theme. Gold-hued metallic tiles punctuate the floor as if to suggest that the space oozes liquid gold. The material adds a shimmer in a second way: It reflects the light from an installation of dangling, bulbous fixtures overhead. Shopper services on one side of the first floor include C&A’s shopping consultant and fashion editor’s board, which is a display of suggested clothing and accessory pairings. The other side features a fashion corridor that showcases the store’s Work collections, with clothing hung as in a closet. The wardrobe displays have straight, crisp lines and edges―counterpoints to more curved and playful displays on the second floor. The bright shoe department, “spills of color, emotion, and quality,” Felder describes. Color is everywhere—from the light fixtures and seating to the cash wrap and shopping bags. A laminated glass wall sports magenta, orange, and yellow stripes. “We added fun and energy without getting childish.”
Dubbed the Trend Flex area, the back of the floor features mirrors with frosted decals of oversized fashion elements like purses and earrings. Serving as a platform for the newest creations by Brazil’s most popular designers, the space is also used to host events and product knowledge classes, such as “Buying the Right Denim for Your Body.”
On the second floor, customers discover C&A’s lifestyle fashions accentuated by the glow of warm, romantic elements such as wood details and curvaceous tables. The lingerie section on this floor is the only part of the store that remains semi-private. Here, behind black partition walls, a Victorian-styled champagne bar is available for bridal showers or as an espresso stop for shoppers on the weekends. Both are common in Brazilian department stores. A São Paulo Fashion Week Shop, which showcases offerings from Brazil’s up-and-coming designers, is also on this floor.
Just for kids
On the third floor, the designers took the sun aesthetic up a notch to elicit a sense of whimsy for the children’s clothing departments. Geometric shapes and fun, tree-like displays add touches of charm, while giant “K-I-D-S” lettering glows in colorful neon above the cash wrap.
Specialty Barbie and Hot Wheels shops, two clothing brands exclusive to C&A in all of South America, offer additional themed shopping, as well as computer access to the retail Web sites of those companies for merchandise not stocked here.
Since the redesign, C&A’s sales have grown in several areas, despite a reduction in merchandise display and stock. “It’s a real testament to how better arrangement and displays can benefit a store,” Highland says. “It was one of those opportunities for us as consultants to do some very serious creative work and flex all of our muscles.”