by STIRworldJan 20, 2023
The story of Hermès in New York is nothing short of a French brand’s adventurous American dream. By the beginning of the 1900s, the brand—started by Thierry Hermès as a harness workshop—had grown into a luxury house catering to the élite of Europe. In the late 1920s, Hermès decided to set foot on the American continent but didn’t gain the expected attention, like other luxury brands of the time. Persistent to make a triumphant return, the brand returned to the United States in the 1950s and has since carved an irreplaceable mark in the world of fashion.
The presence of Hermès in America is a story that connects American dynamism and Parisian elegance and the brand’s latest venture—a flagship store at 706 Madison Avenue is a reflection of that link between the two cities. The new flagship store sits exactly one block north of the fashion house’s former flagship store, opened in 2000 and now closed. France-based architecture agency RDAI is known for having designed the flagship as a New York house where a bit of Paris lives and thrives.
Set on a prime corner of Madison Avenue, the 1880 sqm store is an ambitious fusion of three existing structures—the corner structure built in Federalist style in 1921 as an outpost of the Bank of New York and two former townhouses. Staying true to the design lustre of Madison Avenue, the exterior reflects the federal style of American street facades. The Upper East Side neighbourhood is also home to Museum Mile and is bordered to the west by the urban oasis of Central Park. Reflecting the trinity of commerce, art and nature, the new address carries all 16 métiers of the house while also presenting specifically commissioned artwork and a rooftop garden.
RDAI approached the interior design to reflect on all these factors that influenced the presence of an Hermès flagship, in the particular location. Creating a space where the fashion, culture, and identity of the two cities can meet and exist in harmony, borrowing from both. The Parisian architectural agency known to link every project to its location, places the design inspirations in New York’s past, while also taking subtle cues from Art Deco and the early Manhattan skyscrapers. "The overarching design concept is a dialogue between legacy architectural elements and contemporary strokes. A contrast of atmospheres runs through as well, marked by sharp geometry on one side and more voluptuous, curved shapes on the other. The store is arranged as a series of salons, each distinctive and possessing its own components, like the rooms of a house,” shares RDAI.
The flagship store invites visitors through two entrances from Madison Avenue, each opening onto an Hermès ex-libris and the sculptural staircase beyond. On the bank side, a tile floor in Hermès’ signature mosaic leads to the original staircase with brass balusters, now restored, connecting the ground and second floors. The coffered ceiling design is also derived from the bank’s original structure.“This project was almost like designing five stores into one, while always keeping a bespoke approach. There are many stories, but they are linked together. You go from one surprise to another,” says Denis Montel, artistic and general director of RDAI.
On the primary townhouse side is a Hansom cab, from the 1830s, borrowed from the Émile Hermès collection. With a terrazzo floor illuminated by the traditional Grecques lights, this space acts as the store’s focal point with a sculptural stone stairway that runs all the way to the fourth floor. Accompanying this white stairway is a 15m high supporting wall that acts as a vertical gallery for the carefully selected artwork collection—a painting by French artist Antoine Carbonne, several photographs with an equine theme, reproductions of Hermès’ scarf designs including Centered Rhyme de Elaine Lustig Cohen, Faune et Flore du Texas by Kermit Oliver, and American Quilts by Aline Honoré.
The ground floor houses salons for fashion jewellery, the silk universe, perfume and beauty, on one side, and men’s silk, leather goods and equestrian collections, on the other. With squared, dark-toned seating and blond wood display cabinets arranged on a patterned herringbone wood flooring, the second floor hosts the men’s universe. On the third floor is the women’s universe with curved walls and a warm environment. A large globe on the floor pays homage to the sun, in its concentric circular geometry and the way it mimics natural light. This area flows into the jewellery and watches space, organised into alcoves for enhanced privacy. With a curved glass cupola drawing in natural light, the fourth floor explores women’s leather goods and has an intriguing roof garden. However, the striking element of this space is an intriguing foliage-motif wall with expansive fibreglass bas-relief, lacquered in pale pink-beige, and designed from ink drawings of French artist François Houtin.
Landscape architect Miranda Brooks designed the roof garden, taking primary inspiration from the Houtin wall. Brooks shares, “Its clipped shapes have begun to unravel, and a simple repetition of plants and self-seeders have found their way into the crevices and rocks.” The landscape design of this space also draws inspiration from 18th century dressage-course illustrations, suggesting an oval riding course touched with nature’s greenery. Marking the publicly accessible spaces on the fourth floor, the fifth floor has an atelier with five artisans from different métiers of the house, who will be in residence here.
Defining luxury, fashion, and tradition in the interior design through materials, the flagship store adorns walls with stucco, straw marquetry, various wood finishes, leather, and wallpaper. Following this theme, the colour palette is set in tones of green, dark chocolate, and cognac on the bank side and warm neutrals—ivories, beiges, light browns, and dusty pinks—on the other side. The opening of the Madison Avenue store accompanies a window display designed by Brooklyn-based artist Mike Perry. Perry also designed the temporary stickers that adorned the windows throughout the construction process.
"Our story is a dream of beauty, values, and quality. It is a desire to showcase our know-how and craftsmanship and to bring our community together. It is a desire to build a sustainable presence and forge friendships without suppressing our uniqueness or our French accent. Hermès in New York is also an abundance of stories: stories of our objects and stories yet to be written. Sincere, funny, moving, big and small, they flourish around the corner,” narrates Axel Dumas, Chief Executive Officer, Hermès. The project also won the Créateurs Design Awards 2023 (CDA) for the Best commercial project in interior design.
As the French brand ventures new chapters engraved in the 'Big Apple,' the flagship store at Madison Avenue, even though new, is a seeming extension of the past. Resting across the earlier store location, the new flagship reflects on the legacy and years of craftsmanship brought by Hermès to the American fashion world. As the elegant motifs of French architecture and dramatic styles of American architecture come together in the new store, it becomes a subtle celebration of art, culture, fashion, and luxury.