Jeffrey Hutchison

Interview by Greg Mania


With an array of clients ranging from Saks Fifth Avenue to Ralph Lauren, architecture virtuoso Jeffrey Hutchison has been infusing his creative flair into department stores and boutiques for over 25 years. Launching his reputable firm Jeffrey Hutchison & Associates in 2001 has resulted in global recognition in fashion retail architecture and design. Hutchison goes into detail about his award-winning firm and what it’s like to be hired by such prestigious names below:

Tell me a little bit about your background. When did you first become interested in architecture?

Actually, I was very young. I had always been interested in art, but we had a family friend who was an architect and he was nice enough to show me what he did and take me to his office. It made me curious. I then applied to a special high school that had an architecture program involving two years of intensive study taught by professionals. By the time I was a senior in high school I was working as an intern at an architectural firm. I guess you can say I was hooked at an early age.

Did you always harbor aspirations to work for illustrious fashion companies designing the interior of their boutiques and stores? How did you get involved with that industry?

Like most young architects I wanted to design buildings. I decided to move to New York, as many of us do, to find my future. I was hired by Peter Marino when his office had only 18 people and immediately started working on a Calvin Klein store. From that moment on I have been designing retail for fashion companies and haven’t looked back. I can’t think of anything better.

When designing the interior of a store, do you take inspiration from the location of the store? For example, does surrounding architecture and cultural background play a role in the final product?

As I mention in my monograph TAILORED RETAIL, telling a good story is critical to creating great retail. Sometimes, when appropriate, the location is a part of that story. We are always striving to create retail experiences that are different and unique, even if it is the fifth store for the same client. For example, in Barneys Las Vegas we played up the idea of being in Las Vegas. We used the suit of cards as a decorative motif on the exterior of the building.

What are your main sources of inspiration? Are they mostly objects or people?

I find inspiration in many things — art, nature, fashion, and, of course, architecture. I am always looking for inspiration that has a special meaning, that tells a good story.

What were some of your favorite projects and who were they for? Why are they near and dear to your heart?

I have two that come to mind. First I have to say Barneys, because we designed 5 flagship stores for them and each is unique and different. The client was very supportive in giving us creative license.

The second would be a recent project we completed in Mexico City for Casa Palacio. I love this one because we created a completely new home décor and supply retail format that does not exist anywhere else. We created distinct worlds to tell a story. Upon entering one experiences a grand marketplace, inspired by great European bazaars, that sells all manner of functional items for the home (kitchen tools, appliances, etc.). Continuing through the space, one encounters a street of houses. We actually created a faux street with natural light inside the store with 5 distinct houses.  Customers can enter and visualize in an immersive way what their house could look like with furniture, wall coverings, and accessories provided by Casa Palacio.

It’s obviously important to honor a client’s vision to create an environment that best represents the fashion label and provides an exceptional shopping experience for the consumer. How do you honor your own work? How do you add your own aesthetic and style into each project?

As I’ve said before, it is important to tell a good story — but one that is the client’s story, not ours. That is critical in making sure the message to the customer is clear.

I also feel strongly that we have to design stores that create the unexpected, which is essentially finding something that is going to make a store unique and special. Also, when appropriate we try and work with artisans and artists to bring further depth and meaning to the design. I feel these ideas add my style to our design. If you look at the body of my work you can see these themes expressed in different ways.

I’ve worked in fashion retail and it’s imperative to be cognizant of the store’s merchandising gimmick. It’s very easy for a store to become visually over-stimulating. How do you ensure that the store maintains a healthy degree of moxie but not to the point of a migraine?

First and foremost it is critical to respect and support the product and the narrative that it’s trying to communicate. Sometimes the design of the store needs to be quiet and lets the product shine. Other times the product needs more structure and visual relief. I am always trying to strike the right balance while creating something that is strong enough to hold a customer’s interest over time.  

How is the design process different for a huge department store versus a small boutique? Is there one you prefer working with more?

It’s funny; I like designing small boutiques as much as I do large department stores. I love working in different scales. This is one reason I organized my monograph by size of project (XL, L, M, S, XS). I try and leverage the benefits of scale with each respective project. For example, in small boutiques it is more important to focus on fine detail, texture, hand crafted finishes. These are things the customer is going to interact with in a small environment. In larger stores you have to design “bigger” because the customer is viewing the space through a larger lens. Here we design more significant focal points that hold the space and keep the customer connected to the attributes of the brand.

I think it’s safe to say that if I walked into a boutique or department store designed by you, I could probably recognize your touch. How has your design style evolved since the beginning of your career?

I would say my style has just become more refined and sophisticated. Like any other designer who experiments and tries new things, you develop a better sense of what will work and what won’t. Perhaps the biggest difference is now I feel very comfortable taking bigger risks with my designs.

Who are you working with currently? Can you share any future plans for Jeffrey Hutchinson?

We have some exciting projects in the works, including a new store for Saks Fifth Avenue in Hawaii and a new very large-scale department store in Korea. We are also designing a new men’s concept for a designer (who I cannot yet name) but we are trying to create the American answer to Saville Row.