The oldest American shoe company opens its first flagship store in 148 years
In spring of 1863, John A. Frye opened a small shoe shop in Marlboro, Massachusetts. This was not a boutique where one could purchase Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks, but rather a purveyor of sturdy basic boots hardy enough to hold up to a factory worker’s daily grind. Frye legend has it that when many pioneers headed West in the mid and late 1800s, they did so wearing Frye footwear.
The iconic Frye Harness boot drew inspiration from the American Cavalry. Then, during a 1938 trip to Washington, D.C., the company reports that John A. Frye’s grandson and namesake met a U.S. Navy Admiral who told of his difficulty in finding the Wellington styles he liked so much. As a favor, Frye agreed to make him a pair. The company supplied thousands of soldiers and pilots through World War II with Frye Wellingtons (also known as Jet boots) by mail order. Supposedly, even General Patton wore a pair.
Fast-forward to August 2011 in New York City’s trendy SoHo neighborhood, where Frye’s first flagship store debuted, offering more than 800 leather products that include men’s and women’s boots, shoes, an infant and childrenswear category called “Small Frye,” handbags, and accessories. Not just any old space would do to house this historic brand.
The execution of the design for the 2,666-sq.-ft. retail space at 113 Spring Street fell to the architectural firm AvroKO, with company principal Greg Bradshaw, lead designer Andrew Cohen, and project manager Stephen Clasby. The lighting design was the responsibility of the award-winning firm Focus Lighting, also based in New York City, under the leadership of principal designer Paul Gregory, lighting designers Christine Hope and Victoria McNulty, and project manager Heath Hurwitz.
“The client had a clear vision rooted in exposing the long history of the Frye company while putting their commitment to hand-crafted fabrication with quality materials on display,” explains Christine Hope of Focus Lighting. “Using found objects and a vintage-inspired aesthetic, the architects at AvroKO sought to express the richness of Frye’s custom leathers and metal detailing within a refined industrial environment.”
To that end workbenches, harnesses, bits, spools that once held industrial cable, and tool boxes were fashioned into merchandise displays while other found objects were used to create lighting fixtures and furniture pieces. In some areas, the materials were purposely left very raw and richly textured while, in other sections of the store, a more polished finish was presented. Even the flooring beneath customers’ well shod, Frye-covered feet gives a nod to history as they are made from reclaimed barn doors.
“Using layers of accent and ambient lighting, we brought about drama in the industrial-chic space without creating an overly bright retail environment,” notes Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting. “We worked with different sources of light and a variety of suggestive color filters to expose the subtle nuances of different colors and grains of leather so that customers could immediately understand the merchandise on display.”
The biggest challenge in the lighting design was to bring out the beauty of the leather. “We treated each shoe as if it were an actress on stage who you were watching from a theatre balcony. We wanted the fine stitching and beautiful leatherwork to be seen from the front door,” Gregory states.
Complicating matters was the fact that the lighting design had to meet stringent requirements in order for the project to achieve LEED Silver certification.
It’s not easy to illuminate the subtle color variations in leather merchandise within an environment comprised primarily of dark finishes. A solution was found after Focus Lighting’s team tested a variety of high-efficiency LED and metal halide sources with different combinations of filters to create layers of accent and ambient lighting that worked well together. Matching the color temperatures and qualities of light between multiple linear and point sources proved to be difficult, so a series of mockups were rendered to select a family of LED and metal halide fixtures that appeared natural and seamless.
The focal point is the generously proportioned ring chandelier that spans the majority of the main space. It consists of 8,000 rings that typically decorate the Frye Harness boot – all strung by hand and individually hung using leather straps. Focus Lighting used miniature LED track accents that streak across the field of leather straps and brass rings to create a sea of sparkle in the central merchandise area. Exposed metal halide ES16 track fixtures with clean minimal forms were suspended above a layer of decorative pendants to create an industrial loft-like setting. The designers retained the original brick surfaces for an authentic feel and grazed them with warm white linear LED striplights to bring out the character. This highlighted the rough texture of the brick and set it in contrast to the polished finishes of the merchandise on display.
Focus Lighting’s system also allows for changing moods and different scenes – a considerable challenge in a space lit with mostly non-dimming (code-compliant) metal halide accents. Dimmable LED striplights were used to graze wall surfaces and create a shifting environment of light. Adjusting the intensity of the background layer helped alter the feeling of the space from day to evening without affecting the merchandise lighting.
In tandem with AvroKO, Focus Lighting developed a series of decorative fixtures that fit within the energy code and are dimmable to help change the overall ambiance in the store. During parties and evening events, the merchandise lighting is turned off completely while the textured walls and decorative elements glow to engender a dim, club-like feel.
The unique, immersive shopping experience includes some cool customization options, like boot tattooing and hot stamping. (If you already own a pair of Frye boots, you can bring them in to get them hot stamped for free!)
Long-term plans include similar stores opening up in Los Angeles, Boston, and Dallas over the next several years.