How does afirm come up with fashion-forward ideas for an apparel store appealing to girls ages six to 13 years? A fantasyland encompassing the glitz and glamour of today's young divas? Two words: No rules!
"We sent our designers' girls, ages 9, 11, and 13, into Velvet Pixies' parent company, Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based Claire's, with $25," explains Paul Lechleiter, senior vice president and creative director for Cincinnati-based design firm, FRCH. After observing and taking snapshots of the girls' behavior, FRCH participated in a mini focus group with these spunky youths. This open discussion lent itself to communication between the generations. "The effort was to design the store not from a middle-aged man's perspective, but from a young girl's point of view," says Lechleiter. How the girls shopped, what they liked/disliked and their overall experience were all investigated by FRCH.
Velvet Pixies is designed to speak to the luxury and indulgence a little girl desires. While abercrombie and Limited Too focus on the tomboy or preppy prepubescent, Velvet Pixies entices young consumers cut from a different, more edgy, cloth. To mesh with this Gen-Y kid, a store was created that is "a little more bohemian, hippy-esque, counterculture, a little something to snicker at," says Lechleiter. But how was this mood turned into something tangible for its target shoppers?
The footloose and fancy-free ideas that came from the focus group inspired FRCH's youngest female designers to go wild. The outcome? A store that is hard to miss. As future patrons near the entrance, they are instantly struck by the illuminated words, "Velvet Pixies."
Glowing in pink, orange and yellow neon-colored lights and surrounded by stars, the signage serves as a vibrant welcoming committee. The background is made of aluminum channel letters that glitter with untouched enthusiasm as they are activated by the mall's air conditioning. Adjacent is a giant picture frame with a continual swirl painted within its lavender, wooden perimeter.
As girls look through the frame they see three of five mannequins called "The Pixie Girls." Each of these graphic "voices" has its own look and personality. Beyond the entrance, young shoppers are steered along the "Pixie Path," a hand-painted footpath, leading consumers through the store - passing the ear piercing station, the dressing rooms and accessory tables to the "Poodle Bar," a cashwrap that doubles as a hang-out. The "bar" resembles an old-time candy shop surrounded by colorful stools - a ploy to engage shoppers into conversations with each other, sales associates, etc.
The "path" is made of pastel-dyed concrete and contains youthful handwriting, suggesting a diary entry. Above this whimsical traffic aisle are three-dimensional, antiqued, star-shaped lights, hanging from a hollowed, floral ceiling hardware/decoration. Strips of curved glitter mingle among the stars.
Adding to the fun and fantasy of the store are the unique dressing rooms. Each is designed to resemble a shower. Showerheads are in each room, where caddies hang with fragrant lotions and such. Large, flat, circular lights encircled with copper tubing hang above, from which glass-cut jewels hang suspended, resembling droplets of water. These stalls are outlined in black and white ceramic tile while bathroom-styled hardware is used to hang clothing.
Each store is roughly 2,500 sq. ft. and filled with high-energy graphics and fabrics. The central walkway is peppered with lifestyle graphics featuring young girls in Velvet Pixies apparel. Symbols such as butterflies, hearts, stars and flowers can be found on stickers, gift bags and shopping bags.
Tufted, vinyl Barbie doll cases serve as fixtures, featuring everything from casualwear to "going-to-the-ball" wear. Lechleiter explains some of the reasons Velvet Pixies is unique: "There are funny area rugs, writing on the floor, velvet covered mannequins, pastel painted walls, multi-colored end tables with faux knobs, patchwork vinyl wall treatments," and the list goes on. Additionally, fabrics such as patent leather and vinyl, the color of cotton candy and lollipops, do their part in defining the store's personality.
Velvet Pixies encompasses the lifestyle of young girls. Lechleiter explains, "Ultimately, it's not about creating a beautiful place, but a fun place. A place that's a little too much. A place where girls will say, `I would love to have this place in my bedroom.'" He continues, "When kids leave, they will think it's a big giggle and feel like a million bucks!"