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Architecture + Branding: Sephora provides compelling case for colour as cohesive element to convincingly coalesce conflicting store portfolio

1-Beauty. Redefined.

Proposing an unprecedented hands-on shopping experience that stood in sharp contrast to the traditional department store cosmetics counter business model, Sephora’s self-service style has endeared it to a multitude of loyal consumers.

Tracing its origins to Shop 8, a Limoges, France, perfumery founded by Dominique Mandonnaud in 1969, the brand was initially concentrated within Europe. Progressively growing beyond its European base, the brand has spread its open-sell, try-before-you-buy model, across many parts of the globe. Now operating approximately 1,900 stores in 30 countries, Sephora stores can be found across Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia (source: wearesephora.com, sephora.com).

Achieving such a broad global reach and consumer acceptance has without doubt required a clearly defined brand message, shored up by a solid brand identity.

2-Colour

Utilizing a limited assortment of design/décor items, Sephora has achieved a set of repeatable brand elements that reinforce the brand message, whilst not requiring that all stores be carbon copies of one another.

DSC11712 Sephora Sephora 1500 Broadway between 43rd St and 44th St NYC NY

Photo: Sephora, front view, 1500 Broadway between 43rd St and 44th St, New York City, New York

The brand typically applies a trio of colours, black and white, and judicial uses of red, mostly as an accent colour. Structural and building elements, most notably columns, are wrapped with black and white stripes or horizontal banding, which also serves as wall décor.

DSC11586 Sephora Sephora 150 Broadway NYC NY

Photos: Sephora, front 3/4 view, 150 Broadway, New York City, New York

Iconic and globally recognized, the black and white stripes have become an integral part of the Sephora storefront design (source: PAVE 2013 Store Design Challenge). Although not the only brand to favour a black and white colour scheme, Sephora has nonetheless managed to instil a luxurious and refined aura in its use and application. Additionally, when combined with the word mark and the Flame logo, the black and white aesthetic is unambiguously Sephora.

DSC012957 Sephora Sephora Pine Street and 5th Avenue Seattle WA

Photo: Sephora, Pine Street and 5th Avenue, Seattle, Washington

The interior wall and floor surfaces are generally clad in the same dual tones. Black and white floor tiles and red-carpet entrances are a common design theme. Nonetheless, floor finishes are generally less regimented than wall surfaces. While the black and white banding is a non-negotiable design element, the black and white tiles and red-carpet is largely less stringent. Likewise, ceiling finishes and fixtures are typically less strictly controlled.

Untied to any predefined form factor or location, Sephora exploits malleable and adaptable elements such as colour and banding to create a distinct brand environment.

3-Storefront transparency

Admittedly, it would be a grand fallacy to expect locations scattered across the globe in countries with differing customs and mores to somehow be the same. Notwithstanding, like many other retail brands, Sephora does maintain some minimal standards that serve to establish a token prototype store. Even so, the brand seems to lack a prescriptive building type or form/shape.

Sephora 10 Columbus Circle unit 201 Shops at Columbus Circle New York City NY 2 https___maps.google

Photo: Sephora, exterior view, Shops Columbus Circle, 10 Columbus Circle, New York City, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Sephora Sephora Interior Storefront Shops Columbus Circle NYC NY

Photo: Sephora, mall store, interior front view, Shops Columbus Circle, 10 Columbus Circle, New York City, New York (source: shopsatcolumbuscircle.com)

However, clear sight lines and visibility, from the outside, is evidently primordial in the brand’s store locations. Affording customers an unobstructed front-to-back view into the entire store through large, open glazed facades generally cannot be dismissed for retailers.

Sephora Sephora Interior Storefront Briarwood Ann Arbour MI

Photo: Sephora, mall store, front 3/4 view, Briarwood Mall, 100 Briarwood Circle, Ann Arbor, Michigan (source: wikimedia.org)

Glass dominated mall storefronts tend to feature a single ingress/egress point in a linear plane, with limited articulation.

DSC10412 Sephora Sephora Rue Ste Catherine Montreal Quebec

Photo: Sephora, front 3/4 view, 677 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Complexe Les Ailes, Montréal, Québec

Innocuous, unassuming and generally flat façades are not limited to mall storefronts.

Sephora 555 Broadway Avenue NYC NY 1 https___maps.google

Photo: Sephora, front 3/4 view, 555 Broadway Avenue, New York City, New York (source: maps.google.com)

At times, those street-facing storefronts, as well as those giving onto sidewalks and plazas, are accompanied by a marquee, entry canopy or awnings to add design interest.

Sephora 210 Joralemon Street Bronx NY 4 2014 https___maps.google

Photo: Sephora, side 3/4 view, 210 Joralemon Street, Bronx, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Across the spectrum, straight storefronts tend to dominate, with only limited incidences of recessed/angled or arcade storefronts. Furthermore, some locations, especially corner or edge locations, feature multiple storefronts and entrances points.

DSC12940 Sephora Sephora Pine Street and 5th Avenue Seattle WA

Photo: Sephora, Pine Street and 5th Avenue, Seattle, Washington

Allowing tailoring to specific location and market, the application of the brand prototype is plainly variable in its severity and extent.

4-Flagships

However, a particular subset of stores, diverge widely from the brand norms, and from one another. Flagships, those showpiece stores that serve as brand beacons and test-beds/living-labs for new concepts, experimentation, and design innovations bear little resemblance to each other, or to the multitude of the brand’s more pedestrian stores.

In Paris, France, the Champs-Élysées store, with its classic façade and expansive glazing, allows an unobstructed view into the store and alludes to a sense of depth and exploration.

Sephora 70-72 Avenue des Champs-Élysées Paris France 3 https___maps.google

Photo: Sephora, front view, 70-72 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris, France (source: maps.google.com)

Sephora 70-72 Avenue des Champs-Élysées Paris France 5 https___maps.google

Photo: Sephora, front 3/4 view, 70-72 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris, France (source: maps.google.com)

However, the classic French proportions are quickly forgotten looking at the prismatic, angular, geometrically-styled store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Sephora Starhill Gallery Terrace 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang Kuala Lumpur Malaysia 1 https___maps.google

Photo: Sephora, front 3/4 view, Starhill Gallery Terrace, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (source: maps.google.com)

Sephora Sephora Starhill gallery Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Aerial 1

Photo: Sephora, aerial/front 3/4 view, Starhill Gallery Terrace, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (source: archdaily.com)

Likewise, both have little in common with the curvilinear, fluid, and organic façade of the 64,584 ft² multi-functional flagship retail store, training centre and China headquarters office location in Shanghai, China (source: bharchitects.com).

Sephora Sephora Shanghai Store

Photo: Sephora, front view, Shanghai, China (source: LVMH.com)

Furthermore, at the Venetian Hotel site in Las Vegas, Nevada, the front and interior courtyard elevations elevate the inward-outward visibility quotient through its thirteen 16-foot arched windows spread across the 160 linear feet of façade (source: cdf.org). Remarkably, tonal variation on the perimeter columns reveals the typically unimpeachable black being substituted by a light gray in the banding composition on the building exterior.

Sephora 3377 South Las Vegas Boulevard Las Vegas NV 2 The Grand Canal Shops at The Venetian https___maps.google

Photo: Sephora, front 3/4 view, 3377 South Las Vegas Boulevard, The Grand Canal Shops at The Venetian, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: maps.google.com)

Generally dwarfing the typical store, which ranges between 3,800 sq. ft. to 6,000 sq. ft. in floor area, flagship stores also command an out-sized portion of the brand persona (source: PAVE 2013 Student Design Competition). Nonetheless, the vast number of less extravagant stores does much of the heavy lifting in communicating, strengthening and maintaining the Sephora brand image in the minds of consumers.

5-Incongruent to instinctive

Replete with large destination-type flagship stores, street-facing stores, mall stores, in-store boutique locations (Sephora inside JCP) and even pop-up stores, Sephora obviously does not adhere to a single retail format.

Sephora Sephora Starhill gallery Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Facade

Photo: Sephora, front view, Starhill Gallery Terrace, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (source: archdaily.com)

20140904_120608 Sephora Sephora SW 4th Street and SW Morrison Street Portland OR

Photos: Sephora, 3/4 front view, SW 4th Street and SW Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon

DSC11320 Sephora Sephora Destiny USA Carousel Mall Syracuse NY

Photo: Sephora, mall store, front view, Carousel Mall (Destiny USA), 9090 Destiny USA Drive, Syracuse, New York

DSC11647 Sephora JC Penney 901 Avenue of the Americas Manhatan Mall NYC NY

Photo: Sephora inside JC Penney, JC Penney, front 3/4 view, Manhatan Mall, 901 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, New York

Injecting some local reference and cultural variation into many of its locations, the beauty brand has managed to cultivate a look and feel that is distinctly Sephora, without resorting to building a series of cookie-cutter, repetitive stores. Principally through the application of design elements, the beauty brand has managed to skilfully curate their architectural identity, thus making their divergent real estate portfolio readily identifiable as Sephora.

 

Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.

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