The foundation for Anthony Robins’s career was set in his youth during summers working construction jobs in his hometown of New Orleans. While framing, setting drywall, and helping out with plumbing and electrical work for restorations of historic homes, Robins honed his eye for architectural detail.
The experience has since served him well in his work as an architect and real estate executive specializing in the high-end retail market for world-renowned brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Ralph Lauren, and, most recently, Tiffany & Co. When designing and building space to display the goods of brands that have the highest standards regarding quality and panache, he’s found that even the smallest elements require attention.
“There’s a saying: ‘retail is detail,’” Robins says. “Luxury retail is obsession of detail. Everything has to have the same level of execution as the products, or there will be a disconnect that will hurt the brand.”
Robins’s professional career began during the third year of his five-year masters program in architecture at Tulane University. A friend commissioned him to design a 13,000-square-foot home in suburban New Orleans, and the project enabled him to exercise his developing formal design training and apply his hands-on construction experience. After finishing, Robins moved to Los Angeles and touted the house project in his pitch to architecture firms. “While I got many interviews, I began to realize that people were skeptical that I had really designed this large estate before graduating from college,” he says. So, he carried his hand-drawn project documents, a tactic that led to his first professional position.
A few years later, in 1989, he joined Agence 50 in Paris as its design director. During his four-year stint there, he immersed himself in retail projects—most significantly for Louis Vuitton—and developed his bona fides for luxury brands. The first large-scale retail-design project he contributed to was 50 Avenue Montaigne, an 80,000-square-foot office and shopping redevelopment in Paris’s ritzy Golden Triangle district. Additionally, his firm’s relationship with Louis Vuitton, which was aggressively expanding into international markets, gave Robins opportunities to investigate Asian sites for the high-end brand.
One project Robins did on Guam was a career turning point. The Pacific island, a tax-free shopping haven, was a favorite destination for Japanese consumers in the 1990s and proved to be a ripe market, so Robins founded Anthony Robins & Associates in 1993 and did work on the island and elsewhere. He designed hotels, offices, and private residences, even as he continued to specialize in high-end retail. After 14 years running his own firm in New York City and Guam, though, he joined Ralph Lauren as its vice president of international retail development, having worked as a consultant with the designer brand for several years.
Then, in 2008, lured by the chance to remake an iconic brand’s brick-and-mortar facilities, Robins took on the role of group vice president of global real estate and store development at Tiffany. He oversees and recruits for a creative team; establishes design standards, the strategic sourcing of materials, and operational contracts; and chooses appropriate real estate for Tiffany’s expansion.
Perhaps his most notable accomplishment to date has been a complete makeover of the brand’s retail-space concept with motifs he describes as “classical and timeless.” They’re marked by symmetrical, open layouts and finished with noble materials such as stone, wood, and metal, and they help differentiate Tiffany’s stores, which previously were elegant but indistinguishable from those of other retailers. “If you didn’t see the store sign, you might not have known where you were,” Robins says.
The remaking of the company’s retail sites has won accolades and projects the dignity and grandeur of the 177-year-old brand. Robins attributes the success to his strong commitment to detail and the talent that surrounds him. “You are only as good as your team,” he says. He hires and supports the best talent he can find—whether for in-house positions or as consultants or builders—and he standardizes Tiffany’s details and materials sourcing (all the brand’s chandeliers are produced by the same manufacturer, for example). The dual approach helps him get high-quality results at an incredibly low cost.
All aspects of a retail space say something about a brand, and Robins has learned that they had better be saying the right things. It’s all in the details, after all.
Tiffany & Co.’s
SoHo Concept Store
New York City
In 2013, the 10,000-square-foot store on Greene Street in New York’s SoHo neighborhood was recognized with the Store of the Year award for excellence in retail design by the Association for Retail Environments. It was featured in several magazines and trade journals, including Architectural Digest, and it represents a new era in retail design at Tiffany.
50 Avenue Montaigne
An 80,000-square-foot retail and office complex in Paris’s Golden Triangle shopping district, this was the “first large-scale commercial project that I made meaningful design contributions to,” Robins says. The structure opened in 1992 and features a multifloor grand atrium topped with glass that floods the space with natural light. Robins worked for Paris-based architectural firm Agence 50 when he contributed to the project.
Acanta Shopping Center
This 50,000-square-foot lifestyle resort and shopping center on Guam was the first commercial building that Robins designed entirely on his own. Opened in 1994, it features contemporary styling with bold shapes and colors on its exterior, and it has a covered, open-air plaza and walkways that befit its tropical setting.
His first architectural commission, the 13,000-square-foot private residence, located north of New Orleans, near Lake Pontchartrain, has 3.5 acres of formal gardens. Robins started the grand Southern Plantation-style dwelling while still a student enrolled in Tulane University’s School of Architecture. He completed the project just prior to graduation in 1986. It’s located in a parish (a Louisiana county) lacking formal building codes, so he was legally able to design the project before earning his architecture license.