The new Hollister flagship at 666 Fifth Avenue efficiently explodes the notion that a clothing store is mainly about the items for sale on its shelves. Obviously the purveying of apparel, for decades now, has consisted of the sale of such imponderable commodities as zazz and mystique. But no previous shop has gone quite as far as in that direction as Hollister on Fifth Avenue located between 52nd and 53rd streets, the Southern California lifestyle clothing brand’s second flagship to open in the city, several years after the first one at 600 Broadway.
The new store shows absolutely no interest in or respect for the structure that contains it, formerly owned by Tishman Speyer Properties and designed by Carson & Lundin (which later became Carson Lundin & Shaw Architects) in 1957 with a distinctive metal facade. The new store’s entrance consists of a series of video monitors all depicting the same California surf that is supposed to define this preppy-beach-boy brand. These screens are divided decisively in two by a huge black girder. Most distinctive of all, at the base, flanking the doorway, are two shallow pools receding from the street, about eight feet into the property lot.
Behind the glass doors customers are greeted by two teenage model types, the young man attired only in bathing trunks and flip-flops, the young woman in a bikini and flip-flops. As in a human zoo, however, they are separated from all who enter by a wall of glass. A further impediment to reaching them, should you wish to do so, is a velvet rope outside (similar to the one used at the flagship of Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister’s parent company, a few blocks north on Fifth Avenue), that is supposed to suggest the clubbing experience.
The store’s interior also resembles the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship in its blaring music, wooden shelves, cramped spaces and multi-level stairwell, paved with illuminated glass. And yet it is somewhat more successful in the detailing of the shelves and the products on the shelves, and is mercifully free of the bad murals that vitiate the effect of the Abercrombie & Fitch store. Best of all, it is rich in darkened little nooks and crannies, each with an element of surprise, that reveal themselves to you only gradually as you explore the store. But perhaps the greatest distraction of all is the sales staff, mostly 20-something women standing around in bikinis (not an unwelcome sight in the middle of an interminable winter) as well as a young man or two planted on the landings of the stairs, shirtless, smiling pleasantly, and not doing much of anything.
James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.