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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo: Sephora, exterior view, Shops Columbus Circle, 10 Columbus Circle, New York City, New York (source: maps.google.com)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo: Sephora, front view, 70-72 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris, France (source: maps.google.com)
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.
Photo: Sephora, front 3/4 view, Starhill Gallery Terrace, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (source: maps.google.com)
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).
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.
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.
Photo: Sephora, front view, Starhill Gallery Terrace, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (source: archdaily.com)
Photos: Sephora, 3/4 front view, SW 4th Street and SW Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon
Photo: Sephora, mall store, front view, Carousel Mall (Destiny USA), 9090 Destiny USA Drive, Syracuse, New York
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.
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