Theatrical conception of the New York jewelry store by Alexis Bittar and Scott Pask
New York jewelry designer Alexis Bittar collaborated with Tony Award-winning theater designer Scott Pask to design his New York boutique.
New York jewelry designer Alexis Bittar relaunched his three-decade-old business in September 2021 after a five-year hiatus from management (he bought his business from Brooks Brothers in 2020, after selling it to focus on the education of his children). His return ushered in a whole new look for the company, including an expansion into home decor and accessories, as well as several new stores. “I wanted to piece together the complete vision of the brand,” he says. Five boutiques in New York and a sixth to follow in San Francisco were designed in collaboration with Tony Award-winning theater designer Scott Pask.
Renowned for his stage design, Pask has forayed into other areas, such as designing exhibits, including several at the New York Botanical Garden, as well as a fashion show for Bottega Veneta and even dribbling into the design of retail with Bergdorf Goodman B Boutique’s menswear boutique.
This is the first time that Bittar and Pask have worked together. “I was watching the Studio 54 documentary, how Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager worked with set designers from Broadway to design the changing sets,” says Brooklyn-born Bittar, who cites the cult 1980s indie film.liquid sky, with traces of Don’t sleep anymore, Saw II and black mirror‘ as inspirations for the store’s design. “It seemed like such a beautiful marriage, bringing in a set designer who understood the theatrics with the ability to look at retail from a new perspective and bring nuance.”
Alexis Bittar and Scott Pask on designing their store
Set designer Scott Pask (left) and jewelry designer Alexis Bittar
Wallpaper*: Alexis, how does the new look of your stores affect your rebranding?
Alexis Bittar: The stores are an integral part of the corporate image, and I wanted to make them more interesting for customers and myself. I fell in love with the idea of mixing eras. Fusing the idea of the abandoned institution of the 1970s with a part of the avant-garde of the future. I like the feeling that the store doesn’t look perfect, there’s peeling paint on the wall, and the custom jewelry boxes are on easels. The store conveys an emotional feeling of comfort and complexity.
Scott Pask: Every detail supports the overall concept of the retail environments – spaces captured and used in their state of disrepair, abandonment and disrepair, as well as retro-futuristic elements superimposed in each space.
W*: Why was it important for you to create this physical in-store experience for jewelry customers?
A B: Stores offer the customer an immersive experience that they cannot get online. I believe that once the pandemic passes, people will want to come out of their turtle shells and explore in an effervescent way. I think customers want to see and experience new things in all arts.
W*: What atmosphere did you want to create in the stores?
PS: I always think it’s important to start with the desired goals for the atmosphere – what’s unique and what will engage and intrigue customers. I have designed architectural projects for myself – a house in Tucson, my apartment in New York – and consulted with others, and am constantly interested in exploring the potential of building materials and processes to create and enhance an atmosphere.
And I’m always interested in lighting, whether natural or enhanced, its ability to transform a space throughout the day and evening, and how that can improve the perception of a space.
W*: Are there any items you’ve bought or made that are your favorites? Are there different items in each store?
PS: I really like the mirror sculptures, and they are different in each place. On Court Street in Brooklyn, [the sculpture] reaches the tin ceiling then turns downward to avoid marking that surface. At Manhattan’s Greenwich Street, it wraps a volume of stained, distressed plywood that divides the space. Each of the mirrored sculptures and the plywood walls were created by a theatrical manufacturing company, Empire, which is used to very tight deadlines and excels in execution and timing here. I based the shape of the display cases on a display case I found in a museum in Italy, and exaggerated its shape, then put them on easels, so they have a quality temporary, almost improvised. I like the way Alexis’ jewelry is displayed in these showcases, the way antiques and precious objects are showcased in a museum.
W*: How did you get that look of surrender?
PS: Where we could preserve the concrete floors with a little work, we did – lightly grinding and polishing them to bring out more of the aggregate within. We chose a deep, saturated color palette for the walls and powerfully infused these surfaces over time. The walls of each venue are all beautifully painted by an incredible team of artists from Scenic Art Studios, who work primarily on theatrical projects to create the spirit of decadence and age. In the Columbus Avenue location, we even created the ghostly trace of an old staircase painted on the wall, as if it had been removed many years before.
W*: Alexis, how has the retail landscape changed since you opened your first store in 2004?
A B: The retail landscape has completely changed right now. That really started to change in 2015, the pandemic only intensified it. Customers saw no need to shop in stores if it was just a white box with marble, with poor customer service and sales interactions. I think in the future, retailers need to up their game and deliver immersive experiences that match their brand, with great customer service and great products. What remains the same I think is the experience of someone wanting to check out for 30 minutes, walk into a store and get lost.
W*: Does your self-taught approach to jewelry design give you freedom and resilience in business and creativity? Without knowing the rules, are there fewer restrictions?
A B: I think I had a hard time feeling insecure when I was younger because I had no formal training. As an adult, seasoned designer, I found I had more freedom and it showed up in a very different way. One of them being the use of different materials, and understanding intrinsic value was more important than design aesthetics and components, such as hand-carved Lucite. Another example is the most recent ad campaign, featuring Ericka Hart, Sylke Golding and Kiara Marshall. Specifically with Ericka Hart, my urge to not be afraid to make people think and show a woman with a double mastectomy was such an automatic and intuitive feeling. §