From Emerging to Established: Spotlight on Mexico’s Booming Luxury Market
02.9.2015
Michael Gatti in Emerging Markets, Mexico, Mexico City, Retail, Retail, Retail Centers

El Palacio’s department store in Querétaro’s Antea Mall won an award of merit at the Retail Design Institute’s 44th International Store Design Awards in New York. The store has also been named a finalist for the 2015 the A.R.E. Design Awards. Image © Charlie Mayer

In terms of the luxury fashion industry, Mexico can no longer be referred to as an emerging market. The country boasts Latin America’s second largest economy and is now an established and consequential player within the global fashion economy.

Case in point: this past summer Mexico City hosted the Financial Times Luxury Conference. Members of the international fashion community got a firsthand look at the country’s luxury market. As someone who’s worked in Mexico for the past four years, I can attest that the mood on the ground reflects a buoyed sense of optimism about the present. Consumer confidence is on the rise. Retailers affirm strong sales and projected growth. There’s palpable excitement about the opening of new stores and the expansion of established luxury brands. This is a country with a growing upper-middle class and a significant number of millionaires and billionaires. And because Mexico has lower import taxes and duties than Brazil, long considered the most important fashion market in Latin America, brands can often expect higher profit margins from their Mexican locations.

For retail designers like myself, Mexico represents an incredible opportunity to rethink long held conventions of retail design. Because demand for high end department stores is so immense, well-known brands are investing in the construction of completely new outfits. In many ways this is a dream come true, because opportunities to design new department stores within the United States, where national chains are overbuilt and more interested in retrofitting older stores (or shuttering them completely) than investing in new locations, are few and far between.

This store’s opening was the most successful in El Palacio de Hierro's recent history, with sales during the first week of operation exceeding projections by 50 percent. Image © Charlie Mayer

The preeminent Mexican retail chain El Palacio de Hierro is one well-known Mexican luxury brand actively seeking to expand its footprint and reinvent the design aesthetic it presents to customers. Within Mexico, El Palacio de Hierro carries the type of cachet synonymous with American companies like Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue. Now, El Palacio is striving to create physical retail locations that exude the same level of quality as their products.

With this in mind, El Palacio asked Gensler’s New York office to design a new store in the Querétaro’s Antea Mall. Located within the city of Querétaro, an historic and fast-developing engineering and aerospace hub flush with middle- to upper-class residents, Querétaro’s Antea Mall exemplifies how Mexico’s luxury economy has moved beyond the confines of Mexico City and into new locations throughout the country. El Palacio wanted the new store to not only echo their brand’s heritage and tradition but to reflect the culture and setting of the surrounding community, one that prides itself on providing a high quality of life to residents. Doing so would help create a memorable experience for every guest and make this branch of El Palacio a truly unique destination.

Image © Charlie Mayer

One of biggest challenges we wrestled with at the onset of the project was the store’s sheer size. With over 40 unique departments and 300,000 square feet spread across three floors, by U.S. standards, this department store is simply massive. And from the onset of the project, we realized it was imperative to ensure the design of each department reflected its unique characteristics while simultaneously adhering to the store's overall fabric.

That scheme centered upon the idea of a natural wellspring. Querétaro is surrounded by verdant and diverse topography, including caves, hiking trails and other locations of inspiring natural beauty. The design of the El Palacio store in the Antea Mall takes its cues from the surrounding terrain.

Image © Charlie Mayer

The ground floor acts as the base of the spring and uses design elements inspired by a riverbed and natural cliff face. The other departments reverberate that theme. Moving up a level, as in nature, customers on the first floor move through a series of forest and foliage-inspired spaces. Each of the many retail spaces on this floor is a fully detailed, uniquely designed venue that invokes the overarching forest/foliage motif. The third floor, devoted to technology, home goods, gourmet food and luggage, conjures the night sky. This grand gesture is treated on a personal scale in each department, with emphasis given to distinct ceiling and lighting treatments. The main circulation core of the building, crowned with a spectacular faceted, skylit dome—it should be noted that the atrium is a distinctive design symbol of all El Palacio stores—lies at the center. The entryway to the rest of the mall extends the idea of garden and landscape into the interior with plantings and water elements. Our design team worked with base building architect Javier Sordo of Sordo Madaleno Architects on details of the unique corner entrances. Shoppers walking through the entry gates immediately encounter small retail vignettes as they make their way to the atrium, where a two-story-high video screen flanks the escalators and projects images onto an adjacent water element.

Working on a project of this quality was a privilege. El Palacio de Hierro is not only expanding its reach in Mexico but, with help from our Gensler retail team, is rethinking the way department stores can not only serve customers but reflect the values and characteristics of the communities they inhabit. Such creative boundary pushing is a true hallmark of a luxury market poised to make a significant mark in the global economy. Mexico’s fashion market is not only here, it’s here to stay.

Image © Charlie Mayer

Michael Gatti is a principal in Gensler’s New York Office and a Retail Practice Area Leader. A licensed architect in multiple states, his portfolio reads like a luxury shopping mall directory. During his 20 plus year career, he has designed and built spaces, not only for anchor department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, but tenant spaces for Cartier, Burberry, Diesel, Loro Piana, Chanel and Montblanc. He believes that a retail architect/designer must understand who the client IS or, better yet, who they WANT to be…. and help them achieve it in their stores. Contact him at michael_gatti@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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