A New Stern Look
Image makeover aims at women who buy their own jewelry
Last November, as other Fifth Avenue retailers rushed to finish their
holiday windows, H. Stern Jewellers put the final touches on a whole new
store. The day after Thanksgiving, the company opened its doors on a nine-month,
$2-million renovation of its Olympic Tower location on New York City's 51st
The remodeling was a major step in the worldwide image makeover that
executives at the 53-year-old Rio de Janeiro-based company initiated five
years ago. Gone, say company executives, is the old notion of H. Stern as
the purveyor of special-occasion jewelry highlighting colored gems from
the company's homeland.
In its place: H. Stern as an international design house, where women
will shop for their own jewelry just as they shop for other accessories
from companies such as Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani. Stones are no longer
paramount the new message is the jewelry's high style.
The 6,000-sq.-ft. store serves as H. Stern's worldwide flagship and architectural
template. The company's 180 or so other units throughout the world
including freestanding stores and smaller shops located in hotels
are being revamped using elements from the Fifth Avenue redesign.
Bringing a uniform look to the far-flung stores is a major goal for H.
Stern. Decades of rudderless international expansion meant that store design
varied greatly from market to market, says Andrea Menezes, director of marketing
for the company's North American operations.
The company makeover began with its products. Roberto Stern, head of
H. Stern and son of founder Hans Stern, revamped the jewelry line, putting
far greater emphasis on design and less on dazzling center stones. In 1996,
it launched a bevy of new collections with that principle in mind.
As H. Stern retooled its jewelry production, it also started to redefine
its corporate image. Roberto Stern enlisted a team of store designers and
advertising experts many of them well-known on the international scene
to help. One is Jorg Hysek, recognized in the watch world for his
sleek designs for TAG Heuer and Seiko, among many others. He designed the
overall layout of the store, meant to lure customers to the right as they
enter and pull them through in a counter-clockwise direction past the showcases
and display towers. Denise Barretto, head creative architect, executed his
ideas with neutral-colored materials such as rosy pearwood for showcases
and walls, maple for the floor and terra-cotta-colored paint for the walls
at the back. She wanted to project a sense of relaxed but sophisticated
style that did not overshadow the jewelry. The steel used for a support
pillar and sections of the ceiling has a matte finish. "Nothing in
the store shines," Menezes says. (Except, of course, the jewelry.)
Customers are meant to meander through the store as though they were
in an art gallery. A row of elliptically shaped museum cases contributes
to the gallery atmosphere.
On the second floor which houses offices, a conference area and
exhibit space a mezzanine offers a bird's-eye view of the selling
floor and enhances the sense of spaciousness.
There, in a corner in the back, customers can stop at the bar for such
chi-chi treats as elderflower water infused with pear puree or gingered
macadamia nuts. Continuing their circuit, they hang a left and, if all goes
well, take a seat with one of the Halston-clad salespeople at the selling
table in the corner to the left of the entrance.
Barretto aimed for a feeling of lightness and airiness by incorporating
30-ft.-high windows that face Fifth Avenue along the store's 52-foot frontage.
The store is designed to be female-friendly, Menezes says. Women can shop
unharassed by their young children, thanks to a toy collection that includes
a sheriff's badge, coloring books and perhaps to spur future purchases
Two weeks before the store opened, H. Stern began an image campaign in
The New York Times. It consisted of three eight-page color inserts,
with text and photos by the well-known portrait and fashion photographer
Albert Watson, running every other week in the paper's Sunday edition. It
wasn't your standard store-opening fare. Instead of luscious product shots
or banner headlines announcing the reopening, the inserts presented a series
of pictures from a fictional scrapbook supposedly compiled by an archeologist
(perhaps a time traveler or extraterrestrial, or maybe a visitor from the
ancient lost city of Atlantis, Watson speculates in the copy).
The photos show people from various make-believe civilizations. One wears
a bat on her head, another bananas over her groin. They all have one thing
in common, though their H. Stern jewelry. Some wear it through their
noses, some on their toes or ankles. The shots are accompanied by museum-plate-like
descriptions. "This fashion of setting diamonds ... is probably from
the end of the 20th Century," reads one caption.
The campaign was a bit offbeat, but offbeat was just what the company
needed. Says Menezes, "We couldn't just run an ad that said, 'We've
|Left and above: A campaign announcing H. Stern's new image features photographs
of people from make-believe civilizations.|
Interior of the renovated H. Stern in New York City.
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.