Retail design is one of architecture's most demanding specialties. Every store, no matter how basic or elaborate, has to accommodate a diverse assortment of requirements: display space, dressing rooms, offices, storage, shipping and receiving, all the while romancing the merchandise and enticing the customer to make a purchase. It's a challenging task to be sure, multiplied tenfold when the client is a designer with a strong image. But for Jeffrey Hutchison - who has worked with such esteemed brands as Barneys New York, Donna Karan, Narciso Rodriguez, Ralph Lauren and over the course of his career - designing beautiful, functional stores is his professional calling.
"Retail architecture is equal parts creative expression and rational process," says Hutchison, president of Manhattan-based firm Jeffrey Hutchison & Associates. "That's a combination I've been drawn to all my life."
Hutchison knew at 12 that he wanted to be an architect, and started studying seriously towards that goal in high school. After earning his architecture degree from Texas Tech, the native Texan worked for HMBH, a prominent Dallas firm specializing in large, mid-rise construction. But the late 1980's recession hit Dallas hard, and he took it as a sign to spread his wings. Hutchison came to New York in 1987, and was quickly hired by Peter Marino, one of the most prestigious retail architecture firms in the world, just as a new boom in luxury retail stores was blossoming.
At Marino's firm Hutchison worked almost exclusively on the expansion of Barneys New York, overseeing the design of its critically-acclaimed Madison Avenue store, and its expansion to Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities. In 1991, he became part of Polo Ralph Lauren's in-house store design team, working on the designer's stores worldwide. By the time he left in 1998, Hutchison was a vice president, supervising a staff of 35.
"Once again I was back overseeing the design process," Hutchison explains. "Instead I wanted to be more intimately connected to each project, not managing through a staff." To address that desire, Hutchison went into partnership with interior designer Robin Kramer, and for three years Kramer Hutchison conceived some of the design communities' most remarkable stores, such as Donna Karan's striking Madison Avenue flagship, and the relocation of Barneys New York's beauty area to the lower level.
Work came quickly and the new partnership grew rapidly, but soon Hutchison found himself back where he'd been at Polo and Marino: managing and organizing. After three years, he decided to start again, this time with a small firm and a few carefully-chosen projects. Since spring 2001, Jeffrey Hutchison & Associates has created the global retail image for the Theory stores, as well as numerous other projects worldwide for clients such as Barneys New York, Ann Taylor, Loewe, Nautica, Girbaud, Façonnable and many more. "I wanted to stay close to the design process and keep focused," he says, explaining the move. "That's what lets me do my best work."
Hutchison doesn't believe in forcing clients to adopt his personal vision, which is part of what makes him a success. "Fashion retail requires flexibility," he says. "Some architects have a set of philosophy that they apply to every project. I develop a language, a vocabulary that communicates the core values of the brand, but that can be applied in a variety of ways."
As concerned as he is with the aesthetics of his projects, Hutchison is equally attuned to their function. An integral part of the design process for him is going over the company's books, analyzing the nuts and bolts of the daily business from deliveries to mark-downs, "I like to understand the thought process behind the business," he explains. "All of that plays into how successful the space will be. Design that's hand-in-hand with the company's philosophy and growth has a much greater chance of long-term success."
Jeffrey Hutchison is a registered architect in Texas, New York and Connecticut.
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