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Prada Flagship Store, NY 2001


First steps in “technology enhanced” interactive fashion shopping …

Towards the end of 2001 the fashion house Prada opened the first epicenter store in Soho New York. Not only the architecture by Rem Koolhaas received much attention but many articles were written about the innovative use of technology in a fashion retail environment, which included mirrors made with cameras and plasma displays, dressing room doors that went opaque at the touch of a button, and the use of wireless RFID chips in the product labels to track merchandise and provide shoppers with tailored information on products. 


But less than a year later the first signs emerged that all was not working to plan. 

In this case study we will have a look at :

  • The vision
  • What happened 
  • What can we learn from it

I am aware that there are as many view points as there were participants in this project, this article is a personal reflection.

The vision

Early 2000 IDEO was invited to join the team of OMA / AMO architects to develop the interaction architecture for the Prada “epicenter” stores in New York and Beverly Hills, designed by Rem Koolhaas and his team at OMA / AMO.

The brief was to investigate the most cutting edge technologies available, understand possible applications in a high-end fashion store sales environment and adapt useful technologies to create a luxurious customer experience. Over 18 months an eclectic team of architects interaction designers, industrial designers and software and mechanical engineers developed a sales infrastructure that transparently linked individual merchandise, stock numbers, sizes, staff members, displays, locations and customer cards throughout the store.

This was one of the most exciting projects I have ever been involved with. Early on in the project, as a small team at IDEO we rapidly developed a range of ideas together with OMA/AMO, based on the outcome of various brainstorm sessions and created a set of hypothesis which formed the basis for sketches, rough physical prototypes of a dressing room, including early behavioural tests of the software for the magic mirror. The hypothesis were then tested as part of Human Factors studies during observations at Prada stores. This was followed by a sequence of design proposals and prototypes and involved an increasingly complex network of design and technology collaborators till the final version was implemented more than a year later.

This is what got build:

 A mash-up  of text by IDEO from IDEO’s web feature on the Prada project and Hochschule Luzern 


In December 2001 the Italian haute couturier Prada opened its groundbreaking new “epicenter” store in New York City, designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. IDEO, working with Koolhaas and his architecture and research firm OMA/AMO, created the invisible technology that allows Prada staff members to choreograph the in-store sales experience. 







IDEO Human Factors specialists interviewed store staff and observed the technology currently in use. The results of this research were incorporated into the design of the store’s information architecture, as well as the interactive dressing rooms and the in-store devices that allow the staff to focus completely on the customers, such as the Staff Device, the Recharging Trolley, the Staff Clip, and the Customer Card.





prada_use_case_RFID tag.jpg

The enabling technology for the store is radio-frequency ID tagging (RFID). All merchandise has its own RFID tag. When scanned and detected, immediate access is provided to a database where there is rich stream of content for every garment, shoe, and bag. This is in the form of sketches, catwalk video clips, and color swatches.







An RFID tag is also part of a PRADA customer card. Customer preferences are stored on the database, and only the customer card provides access. This information is used to customize the sales experience and further enhance the service provided to the card-holding customer.








The wireless staff device provides information to the sales associate. It is used to scan merchandise for inventory information, and when used in conjunction with a ubiquitous display it functions as a remote control, allowing the sales associate to highlight sketches and catwalk video clips directly in front of the customer.






prada_use_case_staff.jpgThe wireless Staff Device enables sales assistants to devote all their attention to customers and frees them from trips to the back room or to the computer. It is partly made of translucent polyurethane so that the staff members need not treat it too delicately. The device scans staff tags and customer cards, allows inventory checks, reserves dressing rooms, acts as a remote control to access information on the store’s ubiquitous screens, has a laser pointer, and allows stock to be ordered and delivered.






The interactive dressing rooms augment the experience of trying on clothes for the customer and enhances the relationship between the sales assistant and the customer. It is presented as a simple eight-foot-square glass booth. 








One wall forms the door, which the customer can make opaque for privacy during changing or clear to show off a garment to someone outside the booth. Another wall incorporates a “magic mirror,” a camera and display . As the customer begins to turn in front of the mirror the image becomes delayed, allowing the customer to view themselves in slow motion from all angles.







The opposite wall has two interactive closets, As garments are hung in the closet their tags are automatically scanned and detected via RF antennae embedded in the closet. Once registered, the information is automatically displayed on an interactive touch screen, enabling the customer to select alternative sizes, colors, fabrics, and styles, or see the garment worn on the PRADA catwalk as slow-motion video clip.






a review of what happened next, an evaluation and links to various related articles will be added to this page end march 2009


  1. Good day

    I am very interestet what happened at the Prada Flagshipstore. Why did the RFID based system not was abandoned. You mention in this report that by end March 2009 you would publish an evaluation.

    May I ask you to provide me with these info. I am working on RFID in mass retailing and would be very
    interested to know why this project at Prada did not work.

    Best thanks and regards,

    J. Lippmann


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