Rapaport Magazine

Breaking Tradition

The custom decor enhances the fashion-forward designs at I. Gorman Jewelers in Washington, D.C.

By Joyce Kauf
Omi Privé
“We built our brand as a cutting-edge, design-focused destination in a town that was considered somewhat traditional as far as style was concerned,” explains Adam Gorman, co-owner, along with his sister, Nicole Gorman, of I. Gorman Jewelers in Washington, D.C. Gorman was determined to push the envelope with the store environment as well — taking brand building to the next level and creating an interior decor that reflected the style of the contemporary jewelry they sell.
   Gorman points out that the nation’s capital has become more fashionable over the past ten years with people seeking out exclusive designers. But when his parents, Bonnie and Ivan Gorman, opened the 750-square-foot I. Gorman Jewelers in1981 in a residential area near Dupont Circle, it had a more classic feel reflecting a time “before designer jewelry became popular.” In 1997, a year after Gorman joined the business, a relocation across the street to a 4,000-square-foot space presented an opportunity to replace the heavy mahogany cases with more contemporary glass and onyx.

Dramatic Design
   Looking for architects with a “completely fresh eye and open mind,” Gorman engaged Hickok Cole Architects, a firm that had limited experience with retail establishments and had never before designed a jewelry store. “We gave them words — warm, inviting, urban, contemporary and family. We wanted a concept with drama and flair that would be ‘just I. Gorman’ — unique to us,” Gorman said, articulating his design philosophy.
   The custom-designed store decor incorporates many natural elements and maximizes the impact of lighting. The original I. Gorman Jewelers sign was illuminated atop a u-shaped frame that is made from wenge wood, known for its distinctive grain pattern.
   Elements from actual pieces of jewelry served as models for display cases. At the entrance, three wooden “portholes” suspended from steel poles appear to float between the storefront glass panes. Designed to entice customers to get a closer look, these displays were inspired by a round bezel-set gemstone ring.
   A key feature of the decor is the backlit onyx wall that slowly changes color throughout the day. It gives off a light gray cast in the morning, changing to a warmer light in the afternoon. But at dusk, the entire wall glows in what Gorman describes as an “incredible shade of orange” that is visible from both inside and outside the store. “I wish it would glow the same way during the day as it does at night, but you can’t get that glow from ambient light,” he points out.
   The store is divided into separate areas for women’s jewelry, men’s jewelry and bridal. To create a more intimate feel for bridal, sheer cream drapes cascade across the walls. Suspended from the ceiling, small, champagne-like bubble lights enhance the celebratory mood.

Anything but Mainstream
   “Our overarching goal is not to have anything mainstream,” says Gorman, explaining why he has made a concerted effort to find designers with little or no distribution in the U.S. and establish exclusive relationships with them. “Instead of getting artists who people ask for or who are popular at this time, we travel the world to find designers who can show our customers something they have never seen before.” And, he adds, a more fashion-conscious Washington D.C. enabled them “to push our design decisions even further to the edge.”
   Gorman describes the “fantastic” response to the gold and gemstone designs of Antonio Bernardo of Rio de Janeiro. Top sellers also include the design team of Mary Margoni and Yannis Mandilakis from Thessaloniki, Greece, who use faceted or natural jewels in their handmade designs. Designs by Todd Reed and Omi Gems are among other strong sellers. In men’s jewelry, David Heston, Carl Dau and Atelier Zobel are among his top sellers.

Meet the Designers
   Gorman also wanted to create an environment where customers get to meet their favorite designers. For the past ten years, the retailer has held an international jewelry show at holiday time for which he flies in 12 international designers. “It is so rare that artists and the people who wear their designs get the chance to connect. Even though a woman may have been wearing their jewelry for years, she can meet the designer and build a personal relationship,” Gorman notes about this increasingly popular event.
   In April, Gorman sponsors the “Ultimate Ring Event,” bringing ten engagement ring designers into the store who have helped to maintain his strong bridal business. However, he views this event as an opportunity to build long-term relationships with customers. “The engagement ring is the beginning of the relationship with us,” he remarks.
   “The evolution of our brand has been very organic,” concludes Gorman. “We traveled, found these artists and introduced them to people who had never been exposed to their work before. Being authentic to who we are has created our success.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2014. To subscribe click here.

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