Reimaging an Icon

New York’s famed luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman gets a bespoke facelift for its main floor that is timeless, modern and oh so sparkly.

By Jenny S. Rebholz

Since the unveiling of the ground floor renovation of iconic Fifth Avenue department store Bergdorf Goodman (a one-off brand under the Neiman Marcus Group umbrella), the store simply sparkles. The most significant renovation since 2000, the reinvention of Bergdorf’s flagship floor came to pass with the help of New York-based architecture and design firm MNA to infuse freshness into the space. The team worked to bring a concept alive that is respectful of the history of the store while creating an updated, modern palette, intuitive brand adjacencies and a floor plan that supports ease of shopping and the addition of new and emerging brands. Linda Fargo, Bergdorf’s senior vice president, women’s fashion director and store presentation, reimagined this experience, and MNA helped bring it to life.

“We envisioned the new main floor to be a timeless and lasting design, an experience that is historically sensitive, yet modern and fresh,” Fargo says. “We sought a design that could become both iconic and proprietary to our one-and-only store in the world.”

From its updated street presence and points of entry to the improved space plan and meticulous attention to material selections, craftsmanship and every possible detail, the store is a breath of fresh, luxurious air and a visual masterpiece.

Research, strategy and meticulous planning were all part of the recipe for success as the team worked to achieve Bergdorf’s project goals. “Bergdorf wanted a breath of freshness with a remodel that would pull together the ground floor into an overall design concept for women’s handbags and accessories,” describes Michael Neumann, principal at MNA, adding that the retailer wanted to create a distinct entrance and expanded environment for its jewelry salons.

The team took the opportunity to rework the floor plan and create a “store within a store” dedicated to jewelry. Moving jewelry from its previous location at the center of the store to having its own significant entrance on 57th Street repositioned it among premier jewelers, such as Tiffany & Co. and Bulgari. Fashion windows were repurposed and are now secure for showcasing jewelry. These gem-shaped display windows in cast glass and antique mirror serve as intimate jewel boxes along the façade.

“The new 57th [Street] façade design also incorporated a grand arched entrance that mirrors the iconic entrance on the 58th Street side,” Fargo says. “Backlit logos, uplighting and protruding awnings serve to dress the exterior and create better visibility and branding.”

The jewelry salon reconfiguration also allowed the team to create distinct areas for the Legacy Period Rooms off the Fifth Avenue entrances and then the more contemporary Pavilion Room for housing emerging designer collections. Openings between rooms were aligned and centered for clear wayfinding. Ramps between floor levels that extended into rooms were replaced with marble steps to create a distinct sense of arrival within each space.

“One of the key objectives was to create logical and improved adjacencies for the product,” Fargo says. “It had been disjointed and confusing to new customers unfamiliar with the store.”

The materials and finish palette for the remodel allowed the team to infuse a sense of continuity within the interior to support ease of movement while also achieving distinct details that create memorable destinations.

“We did research using Bergdorf’s archival information, The New York Times articles and documents in Columbia University’s Avery Library to understand the evolution and expansion of the store,” Neumann explains. “Inspired by 1930s French Moderne, the design builds on elements of the Bergdorf Goodman heritage, balancing grandeur and intimacy. Reimagined as a series of salons, the main floor has an elegant pearl gray palette, complemented by custom carpets and honed Bleu de Savoie marble floors in patterns unique to each area.”

Cast and antique glass, patinated pewter, brass and bronze finishes, and cast shapes enhance the pearl gray palette and geometric-patterned marble floors. Details in the jewelry salons were inspired by the chiseled shapes of gemstone designs of the ’20s and ’30s, such as in wall paneling and vitrines. The selected finishes continue to echo the luster and shape of the gemstones.

“We consider the main floor an introduction to the rest of the store,” Fargo says. “For this renovation, we wanted to retain our luxury residential aesthetic and drew inspiration from the store itself, combining its Beaux Arts heritage with Art Deco, Brutalism and French Moderne influences. We created a signature mix of modern and vintage elements inspired by the works of Jean-Michel Frank, Diego Giacometti and Max Ingrand, to name a few.”

This collection of finishes is enhanced by the lighting strategy. With the remodel of the entrances and façade, the team took the opportunity to bring more natural light into the space—including a window overlooking Central Park. The general light levels were updated to a brighter, whiter light to achieve a more natural appeal and provide a dappled effect and sparkling ambience.

And when it comes to sparkle, there is nothing quite like chandeliers, which were used to add to the character of each Legacy Room. These featured light fixtures range from traditional styles to modern Sputnik shapes and incorporate Murano glass, gilded bronze and rock crystal.

A sculptural cast glass fixture in the Pavilion Room also serves as a signature light source. The impressive ceiling heights throughout the main floor allowed the team to design a variety of vertical displays, like the cast glass fixture, which create impactful vendor presentations. These powerful visual displays communicate a sense of luxury, yet the team worked hard to strike a balance of luxury and accessibility. A combination of open-sell and closed fixtures break down barriers and provide a sense of approachability while still maintaining the formality of a luxury shopping experience, such as the presentation of a handbag.

“It was important to create distinct environments for the different designer collections while still maintaining a unified richness and elegance that is so associated with Bergdorf Goodman,” Neumann says. “It also was important to maintain a balance between elegant and approachable spaces, crafted with rich materials and fine detailing, that reinforce the established legacy and essence of Bergdorf Goodman.”

Consideration was given to the modernization of the selling experience. More touchable open-sell for one. Another feature in the sunglass area is a Memory Mirror that was developed in collaboration with Luxottica. The mirror allows customers to photograph themselves while they try on the merchandise. They can later recall the images on screen to help with the selection process or share photos and videos via social media.

The Bergdorf Goodman renovation demonstrates how design can perfectly entwine a brand’s history with modern elements to achieve a fresh yet timeless retail experience—one that offers a balance of formality and informality, intimacy and grandeur, and, of course, plenty of sparkle.


project file

Bergdorf Goodman
New York

Neiman Marcus Group Ltd. LLC


Doug Gellenbeck

Shawmut Design and Construction

AVCON Engineering (MEP)

The Office of James Ruderman

Unique Store Fixtures (fixtures), Daniel DeMarco & Associates Inc. (millwork), Faubion Associates Inc. (specialty jewelry cases)

Schwinghammer Lighting LLC

Walker Zanger

EverGreene Architectural Arts

Louis Hoffmann Co.

Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.

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