A Glass House on Fifth Avenue

As an Apple fan, I think the company’s retail stores are awesome in theory, but I’m not the kind of guy to spend hours hanging out within them, nor the sort to make dutiful treks to their openings, like many Apple fans do. Still, I thought it was worth stopping by this evening’s grand opening for Apple’s new flagship store on Fifth Avenue, here in New York. It’s not exactly on my way home from work, but the fact that the company had decided to put such a huge, public stake in the ground in such a high-end retail district, and with such a prominent architectural statement… well, my curiosity was piqued.

They Think Their Shit Don’t Stink

One thing Apple’s public relations people aren’t likely to tell you about this new store is that it smells like shit. I mean, literally it smells like shit. Directly across the street from the store is the de facto base station for Central Park’s tourist-friendly hansom cabs: anachronistically charming horse-drawn carriages that tour passengers around the park and, as an added bonus, fill the air of that tony part of town with the distinctive odor of feces. It’s adorable.

None of which detracts from the beauty of Apple’s monument-like, all glass entrance to its new retail jewel. It’s a gorgeous piece of architecture that’s completely at home amongst all the other high-end retail shops along Fifth Avenue, and yet not like any of them at all. It’s otherworldly in some respects, completely transparent and yet not immediately apparent in its purpose, giving it a ghostly kind of classiness.

Its neighbors in that posh neighborhood, the Guccis and Luis Vuittons of the world, inspire awe through ostentatiousness, but the new Apple store inspires awe through its single-mindedness and a certain purity of vision. I never got to go inside — the line was long and dense — and I wish I’d been able to stay until dusk at least, when that huge Apple logo hanging within the glass cube is supposed to light up. But, heck, it’s open twenty-four hours a day and three hundred sixty-five days a year. I suppose I can go anytime.

Apple Store on Fifth Avenue
  1. I don’t see how you can say that this new Apple Store is any less ostentatious than the rest of the high-end boutique stores in the most expensive shopping district on Earth. Just because it’s a transparent cube doesn’t mean that it’s not as much an blatant symbol of conspicuous consumption as Tiffany’s or Cartier.

    Seriously, to me minimalism is hardly any more “pure” or devoid of showiness than a gargoyle or a golden statue. It practically screams out elitist chic. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.

  2. Ironically, Steve Jobs’ blood sister, Mona Simpson, wrote a book about a character that many people think is based on Steve Jobs and it contains this passage:

    “He was a man too busy to flush toilets.Ё He was oblivious to the issuance from his body that might offend. He didn’t believe in deodorant and often professed that with a proper diet and the peppermint castile soap, you would neither perspire nor smell.”

    Link to Vanity Fair Article

  3. Chris: you’re right, it’s ostentatious in its own way, no less garish in point of fact than the other stores along Fifth Avenue. My words were imprecise; what I was trying to get across was that it was ostentatious in a different manner, less concerned with material wealth the way its neighbors are than preoccupied with its own aesthetic agenda, with self-flattery. It’s not a work of enlightened thinking, but it’s a half-step ahead of the rest of the dross on Fifth Avenue.

    Mike: Awesome, I heard about that, thanks for the link. Yes, there are many ironies in Steve Jobs’ life… you couldn’t make a character like him up for a novel, no one would believe you.

  4. Good point by Chris at #1… I dunno Khoi, I can’t help but think it all came down to a decision by one of their ad execs. You have a brand that makes a living standing out from the crowd, not only through design and risk-taking, but through the perception of being a “people first” brand, a forward-thinking brand, a clear-headed brand. And how do you make that statement on a block where the brick and mortar muscles in on the whole environment and intimidates the surroundings? Why, you build a transparent glass building.

    They’re the first company to REALLY take advantage of the monotony of 5th Avenue; I think that’s what their idea was… and to let the Ad/PR people spin it into something more meaningful afterwards.

  5. Also, isn’t there a sort of Mecca-like feel to the design, particularly when it is surrounded by a teeming mass of worshippers?

    When you get to know a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool Apple fans for a good while, the connection is not too hard to imagine.

  6. Well, Apple is a religion for many of us – or at least a semi-religion, isn┤t it ? I┤ve been through lots of phases like curiosity, fallen blindly in love, evangelist, to name a few. At the moment it┤s like a happy A4 marriage…(still in love though!)

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