So-Ho Inspired: Design Trends in NYC

Our retail design team fueled our creativity and reinforced our desire for true connectivity.

Each December our retail team at Bergmeyer visits New York City to attend the PAVE Gala and find inspiration by the inventiveness of the storefront and retail design. By the end of a year like 2021, we were energized to discover New York was very much alive, and while we traveled to see store design, we found so much energy, optimism, and human connection, more so than anything we’d felt since late 2019.

From Uptown to SoHo, here are some of the biggest trends we saw in design that sparked our curiosity, fueled our creativity, and reinforced our desire for true connectivity:

Trend 1: Optimism and Whimsy

Prior to our trip, I watched the new Netflix holiday series Blown Away: Christmas. Filmed during the pandemic, artist Nao Yamamoto’s blown glass sculpture “Winter’s Wonderful Wild Ride” depicted a colorful winter carnival scene. Nao says, “Human existence is like being in an amusement park in winter. We can complain about our surroundings and wonder why we are here, or make the most out of life and embrace the chance to play.”

Naos’ feeling of optimism that the world was still a good place was reflected in New York City and became the most shared emotion of our trip. First stop, the infamously stunning window displays at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenues were themed with all things cheer… very “good vibes only” if you will. Bergdorf Goodman’s fantastical windows were named “The Present Moment,” depicting joyous moments with whimsical characters living for the moment, and in the moment. Yet the overall favorite awe-inspiring display goes to Saks Fifth Avenue, creating a visceral story of reconnecting with family during the holiday season. The Saks team took imaginative drawings from children and brought them to life as playful window scenescapes representing the children's holiday dreams with loved ones.

As we walked through Chelsea, we stopped at Little Island, which is a park born from a collaboration of Heatherwick Studio and landscape architecture firm MNLA. Fanciful mushroom shaped columns fused together form an undulating landscape for vegetation and open amphitheater to bring people together for events. The park is free to further encourage inclusivity, and the design is captivating and transformative, taking onlookers to a restorative escape from the busy mainland.

This feeling of optimism and connectedness was felt amongst our team as well. We were rejuvenated by traveling together and sharing personal conversation with colleagues after such a long time. We not only reconnected to New York City, it felt great to reconnect with each other as well.

Trend 2: Life and Animals

Coming out of the present-day version of the “Dark Ages,”, many of us share in the promise of having a new appreciation for life, and most specifically in the realization of how quickly life can change course without pause.

The next trend we experienced was the abundance of animals celebrating life (Pandemic pup-parents on the rise) in the window and visual merchandising displays. Coach was iconic in its theme for ski season, complete with several wildlife friends like polar bears, deer, snow owls, and penguins. Year round they also have a whimsical two-story dinosaur made of Coach leather bags, giving shoppers a roaring “welcome” upon entry. After a little research, I found the T-Rex has a name, and it’s Rexy.

Trend 3: Discovering Our Inner Child

Since when is playtime only for kids? We found many feel-good moments in stores that brought out our inner child as brands encouraged us to stop taking our adult selves so seriously.

Technology transported us into new dimensions with augmented reality experiences at Nike in SoHo, taking us on an adventure throughout the store in our quest to unlock immersive mini games. Five augmented reality mini games were placed throughout the store, and once collected the shopper wins a prize, but personally the prize was already won in the experience itself.

We then discovered Parade, an emerging underwear brand with a cult-like following that opened their first pop up in SoHo. The space is covered in vibrant archways, monochromatic mannequins, plush red carpet, and bold shapes stacked on top of each other. A fake circus tent houses a claw machine where shoppers can try to win free prizes, a cotton candy machine, and disco balls. On our way out, we were treated to Milk Bar cookies, Sailor Moon nostalgia (where my Millennials at?), and hot chocolate before exiting back into the wintery streets of the city.

And finally, not a new store but fun all the same, we entered SHOWFIELDS which is self-proclaimed as ‘the most interesting store in the world.’ The store itself is an incubator space for revolving retail experiences to encourage shoppers to explore and discover up-and-coming brands from around the world. The SHOWFIELDS experience felt like a fun house for adults, with a giant slide connecting two floors where we whole-heartedly embraced our inner child.

Trend 4: Celebrating Temporary

When designing their pop-ups, rather than under-delivering on their brand experience, we found brands were fully embracing the temporary nature of their pop-ups, using them as opportunities to be fearlessly playful and experimental.

While the Tiffany & Co’s flagship on Fifth Ave is under a 2-year renovation, Tiffany & Co took over the old Nike Town next door with a properly whimsical temporary flagship. The space expanded on areas to try on jewelry and included an open central atrium for rotating impressive art installations. The overall design acts like a four-floor “laboratory” for housing new ideas in store design with different designs for each floor. Unlike the elevated and refined feminine design we expect in Tiffany & Co boutiques, the finishes and millwork leaned into temporary-feeling materials like diamond plate, chrome metal, and shipping crates. Even the scaffolding outside was illuminated to match the dreamlike art installation within.

Later that day we stumbled upon nuhü, a sustainable streetwear brand from NYC that recently opened their first retail storefront in SoHo. The pop-up is plastic-free, fit out entirely of 100% recycled cardboard that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Known for color, nuhü created an environment that celebrates their brand-DNA while demonstrating that sustainability can still be luxurious and chic.

Our final stop on the tour was GOODMRKT, a brand owned by Vera Bradley who brings together creators whose mission is to make products that benefit a common good and serve a greater purpose. The pop-up in SoHo is an old Vera Bradley store where they utilized the existing space and fixtures. While this was a budget friendly move, founder Harry Cunningham shared that the brand enjoyed breathing life back into the unique space and plans to do the same in future locations.

Through all the inspiration and innovation we experienced on the streets of NYC, it is safe to say the most prevalent trend we shared left us whimsical. From the darkness of the days past came the energizing brightness of the NYC streets, and we were thrilled to find brands welcoming us back to New York City enthusiastically.

Not only just welcoming us back to shop, but to rediscover human connection, to find fun wherever possible, and to embrace the happiness in life happening all around us.