The New York retail market is the grand prix of competitive merchandising. No chance for promotional lapses here — there's always another store right behind you with a vested interest in aggressively luring your customers away. And that means it takes world-class retail lighting to illuminate New York's world-class stores.

Owners of retail shops and showrooms understand the critical role lighting plays in retail. Illuminating the merchandise so customers can examine it in the most flattering light possible is one aspect; another is communicating the company's image to the design-savvy New York shopper.

Here's a look at how one design team provided lighting solutions for the large open space that is Nicole Farhi's newest New York store.

Days and nights at Nicole Farhi

Apparel designer Nicole Farhi and architect Michael Gabellini put their design concepts together for the opening of the sleek, 20,000-sq.-ft. space at 10 East 60th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, that houses women's and men's apparel, the home collection and Nicole's Restaurant and Bar.

The new store occupies what had once been the home of the legendary Copacabana nightclub, located in a circa-1901 Beaux Arts-style building, originally designed as a hotel. The ground floor held the main salons and public reception areas, and the lower level contained ballrooms and restaurants. When it became the Copa, the stage and restaurant were on the lower level which now houses Nicole's Restaurant in the front of the building and the men's and home collections in the rear.

Farhi and Gabellini agreed the store should reflect the building's grandeur and notable lineage against a background — a contemporary fusion of highly designed natural materials and cutting-edge technology. Together with lighting designer Ross Muir of Muirreality in New York, they set their strategy. The idea was to utilize the inner store setting as a primary attraction from the street level through large windows that offer stunning views of the clothing store and the restaurant downstairs.

The result: a glowing, spacious environment allowing customers to interact with the merchandise on a personal, one-on-one basis. Nicole's Restaurant, occupying one-third of the usable floor space, is a highly rated dining destination in its own right, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Both the restaurant and the store are served from a single doorman-attended entry. A glass-edged bridge spans two double-height atria with staircases descending on either side. The store's design presents different retailing points of view by avoiding the typical display on mannequins.

Farhi's apparel is displayed on ceiling-suspended hanging fixtures. Although they give the appearance of bamboo-like branches, they are strong enough to handle several dozen garments, including coats and other outerwear. Folded garments are presented in the center of the store on a custom “abacus” table. An enlarged and curved version of the centuries-old abacus, it is both light in appearance and tactile.

“Lighting is programmed to create different moods and environments throughout the store on a daily basis, and to complement the changing collections,” says Ross Muir of the store's lighting system. “In the evening, when the retail store is closed, the lower level restaurant is bathed with a soft moonlight-like glow. Lamps for the custom-designed fixtures on the selling floor are adjusted to complement each season's colors and textures.”

Warm and cool output lamps, Muir indicates, are mixed in a precise range to show off the collections to their best and most desirable advantage. He and Gabellini agree the separation of the ambient and feature illumination follows the precept that retail is a form of theatre.

“It's like lighting a dancer performing on a stage, where the drama of the movements is heightened by the spotlights and background lights. Nicole Farhi's is very much like a theatre, and the customers and the merchandise are the stars,” architect Gabellini adds.

Downstairs, the restaurant's tour de force is the 25-ft. Portuguese marble bar and informal dining counter spanning the room in an east/west direction. It contains 800-ft. of white neon tubing that is shut off during the day so the table seems opaque. In the evening, the 15 remote transformers are switched on and the marble glows with the hues of a tropical sunset.

Vilma Barr is a New York-based writer.
This story was originally published in Lighting Dimensions, a sister publication to Shopping Center World.