Fast Company

Sigrid Olsen

The news that Liz Claiborne has closed all 54 Sigrid Olsen stores is sad indeed for Sigrid and the boomer women for whom her fashions were designed.  But it was also a setback for those who see retail as less of a tactical tool of sales and distribution, and more a strategic medium for marketing a lifestyle.

Sigrid Olsen stores were something special. As Claire Wilson reported in the November 19, 2006 edition of the New York Times, to walk through the front door of Sigrid Olsen’s  fashion boutique in SoHo was to walk through the back door of her own home in Hamilton, Massachusetts.

“I want my customers to feel as comfortable in my store as they would be visiting their best friend’s home,” Sigrid explained. “I want them to feel as though they’ve entered a work in progress, as most homes are.” The space, designed by Pompei A.D., consisted of “a loose configuration of roomlike settings.” For example, fitting rooms surrounded a “luxurious bedroom suite.” The cash desk was in the kitchen (because the kitchen is where everybody congregates).

Because Sigrid began her career as an artist, the space was accented with artifacts including “an easel, a stool and some well-used paintbrushes.” Some of her artwork graced the walls and the coffee table in the “living-seating area” was “strewn with design magazines and art books.”

As Sigrid explained: “Just like my house … but without the fireplace." But the idea, said Ron Pompei, the designer, was not so much a celebration of Sigrid’s lifestyle as it was an open door to the shopper’s own sense of self, and artistry. “Rather than ask customers to take on the value of the brand … we created a retail space that encourages them to express themselves in new ways,” said Ron.

He added: “We try to create a landscape where people will meander, make a circle, discover the stairs and look for more … Sigrid is saying to the customer, ‘You are a complex woman, with many different aspects to your life’.”  Ron also color-coded the different rooms: “The different blocks of color … is a signal that you turned a page,” he explained.

Unfortunately for Sigrid -- and for anyone who admires great retail -- she is in a kind of contractual purgatory. While Liz Claiborne has shut down Sigrid's label, it still retains the rights to it and suggests it may revive it at some point. Naturally, that frustrates Sigrid, but she’s not giving up: “Being a child of the 60s, I still have that idealist in me that I think I can pull it all together and give people an uplifting, positive message … and still be an entrepreneur and a capitalist at the same time.”

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