ANATOMY OF A STORE: Harry Rosen, Yorkdale

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No two Harry Rosen stores are the same – thanks to a free-thinking, guitar-playing, detail-driven designer named Mark Teixeira

THEY SOUND PRETTY GOOD — two dudes in their 50s, jamming on guitars at the Cherry Beach studios in downtown Toronto. It’s something they do together from time to time, swapping riffs for hours, taking musical ideas and seeing where they lead, getting inside each other’s heads. The guy with the left-handed Fender Strato caster is Larry Rosen, CEO of Harry Rosen Inc.; the other rocker is Mark Teixeira, the man who has designed each Harry Rosen store across the country since the early 1990s. Their most recent hit is the new, 30,000-square-foot flagship store at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto.

Every Harry Rosen store is unique, created with the location and its specific clientele very much in mind – a bespoke retail experience, if you will. Yorkdale’s reinvention began two years ago when space adjacent to the existing Harry Rosen store became available, potentially doubling its size. Even before the papers were signed, Larry Rosen and Teixeira had begun to discuss the possibilities.

WE ALWAYS START FROM SCRATCH,” explains Teixeira, “with an empty outline of the space – the first of thousands of drawings.” We are in his office, and his desk and draftsman’s table are deeply buried beneath piles of blueprints and architect’s papers. Teixeira’s manner is laid-back and soft-spoken, but his passion and the pleasure he takes in his work are palpable. “We design our stores from two directions at once,” he says. “From above, with the grand concept of how it fits into the community and the local retail environment and which menswear designers we think will do well there. Larry is really good at reading those kind of things and defining a theme for the store. I come at it from the other direction, from all the details, the physical environment and flow of the store and from the merchandise itself.”

It was merchandise and display that brought Teixeira into the company, in 1975. He was 20 years old, a rock musician gigging and touring with a number of different bands. One day he was at Fairview Mall having a coffee when he noticed the window dressers working in the Harry Rosen window. “I thought, man! If I were ever to have a steady job, I would do that one,” he recalls. “So I went to speak to the guy and next morning I was hired.” Over the next few years, Teixeira noticed that Harry Rosen himself would sometimes come and study the work he was doing. He was 25 when Harry offered him a full-time job designing the display for all six Harry Rosen stores.

As the company grew, so did Teixeira’s role within it. Harry took him travelling to the U.S. for inspiration and encouraged him to study architectural drawing and furniture design. In the 1980s, when the firm began to open stores in other Canadian cities Teixeira trained a team of 22 display experts across the country. In 1991, he found himself with a new job description as Harry Rosen’s full-time, in-house store designer.

Just what does he bring to the table? The best way to answer that is to take a walk through the Yorkdale store. You won’t see bare racks of suits or fixtures arranged with stern geometric symmetry or half a dozen pristine shirts set out in a glass display case as if they were objects in a museum. What you will see is a generous abundance of merchandise – piles of shirts and polo knits in every conceivable colour, stacks of cashmere sweaters artfully arranged to encourage you to touch them, everything organized to catch your eye and draw you deeper into the store.

Yorkdale, for instance, has three entrances. Go through one and the first thing you see is an extravagant cascade of shirts and sweaters from Burberry Brit. Look up and the wall of Dolce & Gabbana clothing is beckoning, 60 feet away. Did you notice the gorgeous floor of veined and polished limestone beneath your feet? Ten steps in and the BOSS area opens up to the left with its distinctive armchairs and dark-wood changing rooms – it looks like a luxurious little condo, inviting you over. And what’s this? Z Zegna’s collection is suddenly there on the right.

“We take enormous trouble with this,” says Teixeira. “With blocks of contrasting colour, with lighting, with the geography of the store, we lead your eye forward from one focal point to the next.” This is the “flow” that lies at the heart of a Harry Rosen experience, a sensory journey that meanders with its own invisible but precise logic, like a piece of music progressing from one idea to the next. The sock cove. The denim area with its moody lighting and industrial ceiling. And, of course, the shop-in-shops, a concept Harry Rosen pioneered; they allow a great design house to build its own miniature shop, complete with custom décor, fixtures, lighting and ambience, inside a Harry Rosen store. At Yorkdale, there are three – from Canali, Ermenegildo Zegna and Giorgio Armani – as well as various “soft shops” that use the store’s ceiling and floor but provide their own display fixtures to create a separate identity. The decision to add one for English jewellery designer Robert Tateossian came late in the day at Yorkdale, but Teixeira knows to expect surprises and builds a degree of wiggle room into his plans. “We never get euchred,” he says. “Everything can be adjusted and converted, if need be.”

Is all this effort worthwhile? For years, clothing advisors at the old Yorkdale store believed they could boost sales of Canali if only they had a dedicated shop-in-shop for the brand. They broke all records the very first week after the reno. The same goes for made to measure. Moving the department into the hushed privacy of an upstairs area has let clients relax away from the crowds and has done wonders for sales. Meanwhile, below the main floor, out of sight of the customers, another 3,000 square feet of space is devoted to the staff area and dining room, the tailoring shop, stockrooms and shipping dock.

One other, not-so-minor miracle is that the Yorkdale store stayed open throughout its year-long renovation. Again, the secret was to keep things in house. Instead of hiring an outside general contractor, Harry Rosen has its own manager of store construction, Stacey Murty, a hands-on genius who has brought in every project on time and on budget for the last 15 years. Larry Rosen refers to her as “our secret weapon.” At Yorkdale, she built an office on wheels in the construction space and could sometimes be found there at 2 a.m., waiting for a delivery of lumber or millwork. She’s an expert in erecting and soundproofing temporary walls that are camouflaged with shelves of merchandise so work can carry on unseen. Often she and her team will clear a whole area of the store, spend all night installing a ceiling, then put everything back into place before the first customer appears the next morning.

God is in the details (as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used to say) – and so is Mark Teixeira. Look closely at the dramatic frosted glass façade of the store: those abstract lines are the extrapolated outline of the photo of Harry from the company’s first-ever ad. Check out the way each of the 500 halogens and LED lights in the ceiling are angled so precisely onto the merchandise. Teixeira did that himself as carefully as any theatre lighting designer. “But our stores are theatres,” he exclaims. “The show is the merchandise and the actors are our clothing advisors. If I over design the space it might shut down all that activity and the magic would be gone.”

Yorkdale’s reinvention is finished now but there are new projects already underway – Ottawa, Toronto’s Sherway Gardens, Montreal, Edmonton… Calgary’s Chinook store opened only two years ago but is already so successful it needs to expand. By the end of 2014, Teixeira will have recreated every Harry Rosen store in Canada – each one different, each one as personal as a new song picked out on a guitar, to be orchestrated by an expert team, every note pitch-perfect.

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of harry Magazine. Re-published with permission of Harry Rosen. 

NEXT ARTICLE: Harry Rosen’s CEO Receives Distinguished Retailer Of The Year Award

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