Two years ago, Nike Inc. realized it needed to create a new retail concept to attract customers and solidify its position in the market. The museum-like NikeTown stores had been hugely successful in promoting the Nike brand, but their aggressive, larger-than-life ambience appeals primarily to men. Nike recognized it was missing opportunities to lure a huge segment of its target audience: women.

“We just weren't communicating with her very well,” says John Hoke III, global creative director, Nike Brand. “We needed to extend the brand to that 51% of the population and establish a dialogue with all the female athletes out there.” NIKEgoddess, the new 6,000-sq.-ft. store at The Irvine Co.'s Fashion Island in Newport Beach, Calif., does just that.

Inspired by mid-20th century modern architecture and design — specifically the 1950s-era luxury homes of Palm Springs, Calif. — the store has a residential appeal, using pastel colors, interesting textures, and vignette merchandising to showcase Nike's collection of athletic apparel and gear for women. “Our research shows that women aren't as interested in that loud, in-your-face approach as men are,” notes Hoke. “She's more interested in authenticity, so we created a scaled-down, welcoming place that's really like a convergence of her home and a store.”

A ceramic-tile “runway” begins just inside the entrance and runs almost the entire depth of the space, drawing shoppers into the site. Flanked by mannequins and tables that hold featured products, the runway ends with a vertical backdrop that curves back toward the front of the store.

On either side of the walkway, the store has positioned two distinct merchandising personalities, says Hoke. The “warehouse” space features volume-driving, high-capacity fixtures. The “boutique” side showcases products in vignette style. “Here you'll see a pair of yoga pants displayed with a potted orchid, a book on yoga, and a yoga mat,” explains Hoke. “We use display to tell a story about the product.”

Soothing pastel colors, wood and terrazzo flooring, and furniture-like fixturing reinforce the residential feel. “We tried to strike the word ‘fixture’ from our vocabulary,” says Hoke. “So instead we've got credenzas, wardrobers, and other pieces that look and feel like furniture.” Authentic mid-century modern chairs and other pieces are scattered throughout the store.

Nike developed the original architectural design in collaboration with Callison, Seattle. In January 2001, Nike opened a prototype store near its headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. Hoke's staff then worked with Boora Architects of Portland to develop the Fashion Island store and a third store opening in Los Angeles next spring.

Boora's role was to bring the NIKE-goddess concept to life while staying true to the original design intent, says Kevin Johnson, Boora principal. “The prototype is a 60-ft. by 60-ft. square with no columns, which is almost impossible to replicate,” he notes. In addition, the Fashion Island store is an exterior application rather than inside a mall. The store at this locale features a curved façade in contrast to the prototype's straight one and incorporates colonnaded walkways and lower ceiling heights, as opposed to the prototype. With each new store, adds Johnson, “tweaks and adjustments have to be made to communicate the design concept.”

Thanks to Nike's commitment to sustainability, Boora was also able to specify the most environmentally friendly materials possible, says Johnson. Low-VOC paints, recyclable gypsum board, and wood flooring certified by the Forest Stewardship Council were among the eco-friendly materials chosen. Epoxied-resin flooring originally specified for the runway was changed to a benign glass-mosaic tile. “Ultimately you have to balance aesthetics and cost-effectiveness,” says Johnson. “But in Nike we have a client who is willing to work toward the highest level of sustainability possible.”

While Hoke says the NIKEgoddess concept is still very much in the pilot phase, it was designed for rollout. “Our plan is to go to market with three or four test stores and fine-tune a point of view that lands with female customers,” he adds. “Down the road, we can potentially scale it.” More significant for Nike, he adds, is the new retail approach that is based on being more accessible to customers and more focused on their needs. “It's a pretty major change in direction for us, and one that is resonating throughout our organization.”

Pat Matson Knapp is a Cincinnati-based writer.

Contact: Kevin Johnson, principal, Boora Architects, (T) 503-226-1575; www.boora.com.