Institut Clarins built a high-end skin treatment center and spa business across Europe and Asia over the past four decades. Late in 1997, the company came to America, in a collaborative venture with Saks Fifth Avenue. Under the arrangement, Clarins will install 3,000 sq. ft. vendor shops that re-interpret the company's European and Asian image for a U.S. audience in renovated Saks stores across the country. The first and prototypical shop opened last year in the remodeled Houston Galleria Saks.

"We couldn't apply the existing Clarins model directly because the concept has to fit with the Saks image," says Michael Barratt, senior designer with HLW International, the New York-based design firm handling the project. "The challenge is to project the Institut Clarins image in a way that is compatible with Saks, while staying in touch with the established Clarins identity."

Clarins' international spas feature hard plastic laminates, clean lines and bright golds and reds, laced with off-whites.

Saks, of course, remains loyal to its well-established image of understated residential elegance.

To bridge the gap, Barratt keyed on Clarins' existing color palette. "We applied Clarins colors to different materials in unique ways," he says.

Entering the shop, customers pass under a Clarins sign into a reception and retail area, where bright retail lighting focuses attention on displays of Clarins products and three semi-private manicure stations. The walls of the reception and retail areas are done in sycamore veneers with occasional red leather inserts. The cabinetry features paneling wrapped in fabric.

Brand identification in the retail portion of the shop appears only on the product packaging and on a small area-carpet in front of the reception station. Made by Atlas Carpet Mills Inc., Los Angeles, the beige cut and loop pile carpet features a red lowercase cursive script repeating "clarins" over and over again, line after line.

"You can look at the script as an interesting serpentine abstract pattern or as writing," Barratt says. "In either case, it's a reinterpretation of the Clarins logo that subtly reinforces the company's identity."

This script and particularly its use on the carpeting becomes key to establishing the Clarins image, because throughout the rest of the space, there is no conventional retail signage, no point-of-purchase messages, no outright brand signatures - only lowercase script, which appears again and again, on glass and mirrored surfaces and mostly on the carpeting.

As customers move through the space, the reception and retail areas give way to a changing salon with pale wood lockers holding robes and slippers. On the floor, plush beige carpeting, with no script, matches the beige of the area rug just inside the entry.

>From the changing salon, customers pass into a circular "relaxation room" that takes up the center of the shop's 3,000 sq. ft. Furnished in a luxurious residential style, the room features rich gold fabrics, more red leather, and glass surfaces.

Here the beige carpeting with the identifying "clarins" script reappears across the floor.

A script-carpeted hallway leads from the "relaxation room" to five treatment rooms, each equipped with massage beds, sinks, skin-treatment consoles, and special lighting. Once again, the script carpet adorns the floors of the treatment rooms.

Carpeting offers a number of ways to communicate store image, according to Mark Nestler, a vice president with Atlas Carpet Mills. "Carpeting can create an image with color, texture, patterns and logo treatments," he says. "Clarins used three of these techniques: the red on beige color, the logo script, and high-end cut and loop pile texturing."

Overall, the HLW design carries off a comfortable transition from Saks' sophisticated retail style to Clarins' different but equally sophisticated retail style. Once into the Clarins shop, the design creates another transition, from retail to spa environment, with equal ease.

Thanks to the scripted carpet concept, however, customers never lose touch with the Institut Clarins identity.