MoMA brings design store to SoHo

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff, March 26, 2001

NEW YORK — With the opening of its second MoMA Design Store in SoHo here in September, the Museum of Modern Art will be developing more proprietary products, especially from young designers and students.

The new 6,000-square-foot store a in landmark cast-iron building will put "a major focus on gifts and accessories from textiles to housewares to jewelry and scarves," said Jim Gundell, president of MoMA Retail.

The retail store opposite the museum here and the new store in SoHo will continue to emphasize design, materials and environments as well as items derived from the museum's collections.

"The fantastic thing is MoMA's identity," Bonnie Mackay, creative director, related. "People like the cachet of buying from MoMA. We're like a supermarket of design."

And the quantities that the store can sell "are unbelievable," Gundell added. The store's most successful item, he noted, is a set of curved glasses, "and we sold more than 10,000 sets at $45 per set."

Currently, MoMA is working with young designers and students to develop more MoMA product, Ruth Shapiro, director of merchandise related. A special program is one with Helsinki design scholls that is producing a range of products from stationery to albums tto desk accessories.

"We see MoMA not as category driven as much as it is item- or idea-driven," Gundell

added. "We will implement design in virtually every category except appliances. It gives us the opportunity to explore new ways."

Working in textiles, Mackay explained, "it has to be the material first, then the design. In patterning, we have to design ourselves; the designs mostly are not from the MoMA collections. The museum is not interested in using the collections as decorative items."

But the retail group has a close working relationship with the museum's curators, Shapiro remarked. "The curators open doors for us — give us access."

Mackay added, "The curators are great retailers, and they're proud when something sells that they've helped us with."

Discussing product development, Mackay observed, "The beauty of being with MoMA is that you can take chances and push quality levels. You don't have to go through a lot of show-and-tell to get decisions," she said, speaking from years of experience at Bloomingdale's. Gundell also is a Bloomingdale's alumnus.

A key element in the product development and design, Gundell explained, "is that we are judged on many levels — critical attention as much as financial. We're empowered to attract attention, take risks and be innovative."

As an example, Gundell cited the relationship established with the Japanese textile and design community. "Our connection to the Japanese designers and textile business gave us exclusivity and narrow distribution. And we built an ancillary business for Japanese home textiles beyond mats to pillows and wool throws."

MoMA Retail sells its merchandise online as well as through a catalog that has a circulation of 1.7 million, but only mails five times from August through November. "We're a holiday retailer" when it comes to catalog, Gundell noted, "but we're looking for an expansion of the catalog in '02 beyond fall and holiday."

MoMA Retail "allows us to communicate with people on a year round basis," he added.

MoMA Retail is involved with the museum's wholesale division, which sells to such retailers as Barnes & Noble and Museum Co. "There are variations in each channel, and we have to make some different decisions in wholesale vs. retail. But we still think as retailers when developing product for wholesale," Gundell admitted.

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