Months after embarking on one of the most ambitious—not to mention conspicuous—marketing efforts to promote a store opening, Uniqlo threw open the doors to its 89,000-square-foot Fifth Avenue flagship in New York City for a party Thursday night, an affair that was more than a year in the making and drew some 1,600 guests. The Japanese retailer's store marks the most expensive real estate/commercial transaction in the city’s history—$300 million for a 15-year lease, with a rumored $20 million to $25 million building cost. While there are plenty of existing design components, like oak staircases embedded with LED lights and 300 LED screens displayed throughout, the private function sought to make a big splash with decor, entertainment, and food.
Event producer Josh Wood worked with Mary Lawton, Uniqlo's U.S. public relations manager, and Aoi Matsumoto, Uniqlo’s Tokyo-based global public relations manager, to create an experience that offered elements that spoke to New York, while simultaneously underscoring the retailer’s Japanese heritage. “The idea was to tie in a lot of traditional elements with modern updates in a minimalist approach,” said Wood, who was working with Uniqlo for the first time. That meant that everything from the food to the decor melded both an Asian and Western aesthetic.
Design studio Florisity's Katsuya Nishimori—who ran the now-closed Takashimaya Floral on Fifth Avenue—created the traditional Japanese ikebana floral arrangements that peppered the store, including a large centerpiece made of driftwood, leaves, and berries that sat prominently in a glass cube room covered by Japanese washi paper, which was hand-delivered from Tokyo.
On the food and beverage side, Olivier Cheng served both Asian and Western hors d’oeuvres, including foie gras with dashi gelee, miso cod with snow pea julienne passed in a modern spoon, truffled grilled cheese with celery relish, and lamb loin on a rosemary skewer with mint chutney. Bowls of edamame were placed on bar counters in lieu of nuts, while desserts came in the form of macaroons, plum bonbons, and green tea panna cotta.
Entertainment was just as eclectic, with everything from a traditional sake ceremony to performances by Santigold, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Sharon Jones, and LCD Soundsystems’ James Murphy. “We flared old school and new school, a mixing of old with new with a clean aesthetic representative of Uniqlo,” described Lawton.
Uniqlo also brought in two of its mobile pop-up shops, known as Cubes, linking the opening to the promotional campaign the retailer implemented to build awareness for the new stores. “They’re a way for us to give a very little bit of the Uniqlo aesthetic to different areas of the city,” said Lawton. “The fact that it was mobile allowed us to reach a few more critical spots in the city.” Among the stops the cubes made were the Hester Street Fair, Welcome Back to Columbia University Festival, Grand Central Fall Festival, and the New York City Wine & Food Festival. When asked about maximizing awareness, Lawton said the message for this “Made for All” campaign starring prominent New Yorkers, as well as its multifaceted initiatives, was “to partner with the city and be a respectful member of the community.”
The cost of the cubes wasn't disclosed, but, according to Lawton, the focus wasn’t on the price tag. “It was about maximizing Uniqlo’s ability to interact with members of the New York community,” she reiterated, adding that the cubes will be at a few more events and then Uniqlo officials will decide what to do with them.
The cubes are just one facet of the retailer's Manhattan takeover. Three strategic pop-ups that took over retail spaces opened around the city in late summer, while in July, Uniqlo announced its sponsorship of the High Line Rink as part of a two-year partnership with the Friends of the High Line (Uniqlo’s new U.S. headquarters will be housed on West 14th St. in the glass building attached to the High Line).
As the Fifth Avenue flagship neared its opening, Lawton said Uniqlo amped up its advertising on taxi cabs and buses in an effort to make a “bold statement.” As for the underground, subway marketing blitz? It was mapped out with the focal point—or area with the most saturation—at Fifth Avenue and 54th Street and spreading out from there. Uniqlo also enlisted MoMA-curated designers to create limited-edition T-shirts that launched at the museum store with a shop-within-a-shop (MoMA director Glenn Lowry participated in the ribbon cutting on Friday).
Perhaps the only hiccup at Thursday's store opening was the setting off of the fire alarms, which promptly drew the arrival of New York City firefighters—adding, undoubtedly, an extra dose of a true New York experience.