Published in July 2008

‘Beauty’ Of Technology
By Jim Stokes

Elizabeth Arden flagship boutique gets AV ‘facelift.
The Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox blends a beautiful environment with solid acoustic performance.

Elizabeth Arden, a retail beauty products industry leader, has completed the makeover of its New York City-based Fifth Avenue Red Door flagship store, after four months of renovation. The opening event featured a ribbon cutting by Academy Award-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. We’ll speak with the architecture firm and AV company involved in the project, as well.
If you’ve ever strolled down Fifth Avenue, especially those blocks nearest Central Park, the buildings’ architecture and store windows are competing for your attention. Because one of the obvious cardinal principles of advertising is to attract attention, a lot of creativity can go into a window display.

Red Metal Ribbon

Most recently, even the most casual passersby can’t help but notice a 14-foot gleaming, unfurled red metal ribbon coming at them, headed by a large viewing screen showing a video of the company’s wares. For this is a different kind of display window at 54th and Fifth, which tends to draw you into the entire store. It’s incorporated into Elizabeth Arden’s new look.

And for a client’s perspective to introduce that new look and our story, here’s Mary Beth Mazzotta, vice president of sales and marketing services for the world-famous Red Door at 691 Fifth Avenue: “We reopened it to be a unique beauty shopping experience. In terms of retail...‘location, location, location’’s in the most prime retail estate [area] from 54th to 59th Street. So, having the running video available for customers to see from the outside gives us another opportunity to tell our story. Our goal is to project this powerful presence through the design of our newly renovated flagship store.”

Mazzotta continued: “When we discussed the new floor plan, we wanted to do something curvaceous that created movement throughout the store that really enticed the customer to shop,” she said, adding, “Before the renovation, it was like a bowling alley: just walls on either side. And you just walked straight back. So it was very challenging to work with the metal and be able to incorporate the video in front.

“We wanted to make sure we could project it from the back, from such a short space. [The video assembly] was built as part of the wall. Anyone could have put a plasma on the wall. [Integrator] McCann Systems really brainstormed with us. And they did a great job.”
She also noted that the sound was an important element, along with the choice of music. The concealed ceiling speakers aren’t obtrusive and don’t take away from the beauty of the store. The sound is “heaven-like when you’re shopping,” and the lighting “adds a bit of femininity” with the stretched fabric.

AV Integrated In Architecture

The makeover design challenge was implemented by New York City-based Highland Associates. The attention-getting gigantic “S”-curved red lacquered plate steel ribbon wall that runs down the center of the store, which was designed by architect Glenn Leitch, principal and design director of Highland Associates, is at the heart of the Red Door’s new look (see “Curvaceous” sidebar for details).

Leitch and his team of designers welcomed the design challenge. The project team included Eric Scott, project architect, and Deborah Lorenzo, NCIDQ, project interior designer. Leitch explained that all the engineering within the store is integrated in an architectural fashion. In contrast, he noted that some other installs have technology “all over the place.” “We’re an architectural firm, so we look to solutions like this, where everything ‘disappears.’ If you look at the ceiling, you won’t see any diffusers. All the air conditioning is hidden and integrated into little slots.

“And you have this great sound system that no one sees. The AV [front screen] wall has backlit projection, which blends into the red wall, also. It’s all seamlessly interjected within the architecture.” We’ll journey through other high quality elements in the store later.
Specifically regarding McCann Systems’ AV equipment install, he said, “It’s really a team effort. So, when I involve Frank McCann in projects, it’s with the same approach. We’re trying to integrate all the different technology and architecture into one, so it makes some sense.
“When I work with them and have them make things happen, I let them go. I never get involved with that. I know what I want it to look like. In this case, I wanted the equipment to ‘go away’ and be more seamless.” Leitch noted an interesting AV challenge to the wall’s AV screen, concerning a lot of outside light, which would otherwise interfere with Large Screen Displays’ screen illumination. However, good, even screen brightness was maintained via the choice of a Panasonic projector.

McCann Systems’ Install

McCann Systems, LLC, Edison NJ, is credited with the AV integration. Taking a wide view of the AV install, Ken Newbury, CTS, project manager, observed, “It wasn’t a huge scope work, but it was a fun project. However, the real challenge was in the design, and the assembly and alignment of the rear projection sled. We had to fit the assembly into a small cavity; we couldn’t ask for more space. That’s where the engineering miracles came into place.

“For the design, I worked intensely with Large Screen Displays (LSD), the vendor that provided the mirror and sled assembly. We’ve had good success using Large Screen Displays in the past. LSD has really good engineers who are willing to work with us. The designing of the sled had me sweating. We were going back and forth with LSD with a lot of designs that would work, wouldn’t work and back to the drawing board.”

Newbury explained that the projection install literally just fit the cavity, where it was necessary to notch out the sheetrock wall for a required extra half inch of space. Even without the S-curved wall in place, the projector assembly space was quite narrow. Because the store itself is less than 20 feet wide and about 85 feet long, the ribbon-like wall running down the middle of the store created a center of attention.

Custom DVD content plays through the DLP projector. The show scales through various Elizabeth Arden products, including fragrances, perfumes and lotions. However, in order to view the program correctly, McCann put in a 4:3 projector mounted sideways to create a properly viewed 3:4 rotated image; otherwise, it would have been viewed sideways. And not many window passersby would cock their heads to view such a skewed presentation. “The height and positioning of the 50"x50" screen was thought out pretty well between [Highland’s] Glenn Leitch and me,” said Newbury.

Curved Image

“Now, we had to take into consideration that we were taking an image intended to be projected on a flat surface. But we were putting it on a curve.” To straighten the image, they integrated a geometry correction box between the video signal and the projector. This was done via a Silicon Optix imaging device, which allows the image to be fluid across a curved screen (see “Curvaceous” sidebar for details).

A Crestron touchpanel made the video control user-friendly for store employees, allowing them to control program content and turn the projector on and off for store openings and closings.

There was an iPod connection, as well, for in-store Muzak audio. A Muzak player was installed in the rack. In addition, there’s a Denon five-disc CD changer so they can play additional CDs.

And that brings us to the speakers. “The architects wanted the ceiling to be clean,” said Newbury. “They didn’t want customers to see speaker grilles or speaker mounts. But they still wanted an audio experience within the store. We used Sound Advance speakers, an older technology that’s been around for a while. Essentially, they’re ‘invisible’ speakers. When the sheetrock ceiling gets constructed, the speakers themselves get installed into the framework of the ceiling.

“Then, using special spackle, you literally tape the spackle right over the face of the speaker, therefore making it essentially ‘disappear,’ and it becomes part of the ceiling. Then the ceiling is painted. As far as the eye can see, it’s just a nice, clean, white sheetrock ceiling. But we have four speakers hidden up there for audio playback. The store sounds really good.”

Other Quality Elements

Now that we’ve covered the AV, let’s look at the other aspects that made up the store’s renovation. Customers are greeted dramatically by the oversized Elizabeth Arden Red Door. Flanked by crystal clear Starfire Glass, the streamlined storefront invites visitors to explore what lies inside. There’s not only the aforementioned red ribbon wall; the venue’s constantly changing gallery wall forms a backdrop for focuses on products, fashion and beauty, tributes to the Elizabeth Arden legacy, celebrity spokespeople and celebrations of humanitarian and educational causes.

The store’s Mary Beth Mazzotta further explained: “The gallery wall is a very special creative element for us. We want to represent the culture of the fashion and beauty industry today: educated, confident and giving.”

Turning again to supportive technical aspects, architect Leitch pointed out that Color Kinetics lighting, the ceiling material, a vintage chandelier and terrazzo floors were other elements that served to maintain a consistently high quality throughout the space. “After we designed the ribbon, we designed the cove ceiling.” Barrisol installed its own branded Stretch Fabric ceiling material. “This membrane hides the fixtures and creates a glow. But we didn’t want light to hit the red wall because it would have refracted red light all over the store.

Graze The Wall

“The light had to come straight down, graze the wall and not flood the wall. In fact, the client was most concerned about people looking red in a beauty store. And that never happened because the lighting worked perfectly.” The large display case on the left wall has all backlit glass with Color Kinetics lighting. Thus, lighting is a key component in the store’s makeover.

On your journey through the store, you’ll be walking on a custom terrazzo floor comprised of marble chips within a matrix. And as you stroll, you’re sure to notice an antique, six-foot-high, ornate chandelier comprised of about 100 19-inch cylinders. “We found it in an antique store in Montreal,” related Leitch. “It reflects the connection between the old original building façade and the newly remodeled store. It’s kind of an apex of the journey through the space. It ties the old and the new together.” Specifically, this space has been the home of Elizabeth Arden’s famed Red Door since 1930. It’s housed in the Aeolian Building at 54th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Historic Building

Information from New York City’s Department of Records ( about the historic building brings us further into Arden’s history because the building was constructed in the mid 1920s and derives its name from the Aeolian Company, which manufactured roll-operated instruments. Sound familiar? Recall, then, the Aeolian music boxes and player pianos, among other instruments. Thus, the chandelier is right at home, housed in a building that harkens back to the nostalgic, ornate commercial buildings of the ’20s, with the Aeolian’s fanciful rounded corner, curves and angles—a far cry from today’s sleek glass and clean-lined office towers.

In addition to the interviews and sources mentioned here, we also want to acknowledge two very helpful people behind the scenes: Elizabeth DePace, marketing coordinator, Highland Associates, and Lynn Stefanelli, public relations manager, McCann Systems.

Beauty Business Pioneer Elizabeth Arden

Elizabeth Arden, whose birth name was Florence Nightingale Graham, was born in Canada in 1878. Early on, Florence was a visionary. Like her famed namesake, she was also a nurse. However, Florence Graham foresaw burn creams and skin salves not just as medicine, but also with the potential to be beauty creams and lotions. She began to take over her kitchen at home as a laboratory, relentless in her search for the perfect beauty cream.

Like many famous pioneers, Florence faced many initial failures. But she always kept her dream in sight: her business plan of building a cosmetics corporation. In the process, she changed her name to the glamorous-sounding Elizabeth Arden.

At age 30, she decided to go to New York, where she devoured the culture, sights and energy of the city. She befriended a chemist and began her research into the future of “beauty cream,” which was an unknown concept until then. And at the same time, she worked at a beauty parlor and mastered the art of the facial massage. With this bit of history, we see the early start of Elizabeth Arden beauty products. Information has been based on “Profile of a Pioneer” at


A Curvaceous Inspiration

According to Highland Associates architect Glenn Leitch, his inspiration for the Elizabeth Arden store’s S-curve ribbon came from a website showing an image of a ribbon following a package. He did a hand sketch based on the motif and had his other architect do a 3D rendering on the computer of the wiggly ribbon wall. “The metaphor was that the whole store is a package opening up on Fifth Avenue. It was one of those ‘light bulb’ moments that happened probably a couple hours after I left the first interview with the client.”

Furthermore, Leitch imagined that the folds of the curve could have inserted product display units. And, in fact, they have a practical use as beauty niches: “The red ribbon really helped the store because, before the renovation, complaints were that people just went straight to the back of the store. What the ribbon did was move people around and create different zones. So, everything grew from that and we started to develop it. I’ve always done my architecture that way. I just get a good vibe and go with it. This red wall became a fascinating thing to build. We ended up building it out of ¼-inch steel, which came in 4'x14' panels that were assembled on the site after everything else was finished.”

The wall was fabricated by Dan Gutfreund of Industry Outfitters, Inc., Toronto, Ontario. The ribbon continues to unfurl at the rear of the space, where the red wall turns into a perfect curve, which orients the customer back to the front of the store via the other side of the wall.

However, at the front of the store, the gigantic 14-foot-high ribbon “threw a curve” at the viewing screen construction, so to speak. “It was an amazing coordination effort to get the screen opening perfect because it curves in both directions,” said Leitch. “It starts to be concave on the right. Then, on the left, it goes convex, which made it difficult from an AV standpoint. And I remember [McCann Systems] trying to push me to do it just concave. I said, ‘no,’ because the whole idea would be that [the screen] starts to flow with the curve. And [McCann] ended up miraculously pulling this off. They fixed the image so it looks like a flat image, even though it’s a double curve.”


Highland Associates

Highland Associates, New York City, is a multi-disciplined firm specializing in architecture, engineering and interior design. What makes Highland special is the firm’s proven experience in multiple market segments. The firm believes that every project is unique and should be examined with an open mind. The diversity of experience allows its professional staff to challenge the standard and engage in a creative dialogue aimed at finding the most appropriate solution.

In addition to the Elizabeth Arden flagship store, other projects include renovating the corporate headquarters of Playboy Enterprises and landmark renovations for retailers Elie Tahari and Bloomingdale’s in SoHo.

For more information, go to


McCann Systems

McCann Systems, LLC, Edison NJ, is an innovative design/build audiovisual firm. The recent integration by McCann for Elizabeth Arden is another example of how luxury retailers see the need for AV specialists to improve a shopper’s experience. McCann Systems is experiencing a spike in interest by retailers to introduce innovative AV design into their retail environments. McCann has recently integrated AV for a number of luxury retailers, including Elie Tahari (East Hampton NY), NHL Powered by Reebok (New York City) and Nintendo World (New York City).
For more information, go to




1 Large Screen Displays custom RMS-78X-DS-UNF-6 AXIS mirror sled, mirror, screen
1 Panasonic PT-D5600U DLP projector w/1.3-1.8:1 lens
1 Silicon Optix IA-100_EX Image AnyPlace geometry correction device
Video Playback
1 Denon Pro DN-V310 pro DVD player
1 Crestron CP2E dual bus control system
1 Crestron TPS-2000L rackmounted color touchpanel
1 Crestron ST-COM Crestnet duo RS232 communications module


4 Atlas HT327 70V transformers
1 Belkin F8Z065 iPod docking station
1 Crown 1160MA 70V power amp
1 Extron MLS 100A 4-input stereo audio MediaLink switcher
1 Marantz Pro PMD371 5-disc CD changer w/RS232C
4 Sonance SA2 PBB4 backboxes (for Sound Advance SA2s)
4 Sound Advance SA2C ceiling speakers


Barrisol Stretch Fabric for subdued cove lighting
Color Kinetics


Liberty Wire & Cable cabling
1 Middle Atlantic WRK-37-27 44-space equipment rack w/accessories
1 SurgeX SX1120 RT power conditioner, surge protector
List is edited from information supplied by McCann Systems.


Sound & Communications Contributing Editor Jim Stokes has been involved in the AV industry for more than 30 years as an AV technician and writer.

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