The future of retail is all about experience. Looking at some of the world’s leading proponents in cult shopping experiences, we see what it is that makes the minds of these creative visionaries able to capture the hearts and minds of their clients. We also look at the environments they have created- beyond the innovation we study the thought behind these new environments and look at the ways we can challenge the way we will be shopping in the next decade.
It is usually the possession of an innate and strong creative vision which brings together the curation of a powerful and effective exhibition, and as retail becomes more ‘experiential it is these skills that retailer becomes curator. As well as providing an exciting and stimulating realm within which to shop, underlying all of these environments is a new way to think about the shopping environment. Rather than quick ‘slash and burn’ environments which are perpetually gutted and refitted, the three examples we look at have reinvented, through creativity and consideration, the way an environment can evolve and change in an ever growing way. Rather than a quick colour and visual branding, this new ‘organic luxury’ with its’ in-build integrity builds in lifespan for an retail environment without the need for it to be changed on the whim of fashion or fickle trends. The future of our retail spaces, even those on the high street, really need to take heed of some of the work of these talented pioneers. As consumers become ever-more discerning themselves and start to question more the credentials of the environments within which they shop, some of the concepts covered here will become more and more pertinent and effective. The future of retail environments will go beyond mere superficial detailing, and indeed the future of retail identities will move away from ‘branding’ to philosophy. The companies with a truly thought-out and well-developed creative personality will shine beyond those who are simply following the herd.
Rei Kawakubo, the effortless inventor of many of the past decades’ most acclaimed retail environments was doing pop-up and guerilla ten years ago- we look at what she’s doing now. Rosanna Orlandi, the wonderful creator and host of the high end fashion and home-ware boutique, Spazio Rosanna Orlandi guides us through the sensory experiences that embrace you in her retail world. Marie-France and Bernard Cohen show how philanthropy and luxury can mix with their new charity-boutique, Merci, in Paris.
Rosanna Orlandi/ Spazio Rossana Orlandi
Rossana Orlandi, a strikingly stylish grey-haired lady with giant spectacles ushers people excitedly through the discreet mews-like entrance to her retail empire, “Spazio Rossana Orlandi”, home to her carefully curated fashion and home-ware retail environment. Hidden in the quiet streets of Milan’s ancient Magenta district the only signal for the discerning is a simple brass plaque and bell which flags the entrance to this extraordinary place. The space is divided into two different areas- one dedicated to design furnishing with a gallery for exhibitions and the other is dedicated to Fashion. Orlandi’s spin is taking you on an inspired journey through all she has found new and stimulating in the world of interior and fashion design around her.
For Milan Furniture Fair her space has become a pop-up satellite for some of the more leftfield and challenging of the collections of this years display. Orlandi has chosen 21 designers to exhibit at her space; a series of modestly sized and haphazardly arranged halls and stable-like outbuildings centred around a large glass-roofed conservatory. She has created a local yet international platform for design, enabling young designers to emerge and their creative talents to be recognised and encouraged.
One grand hall also houses the launch of one of the years’ most sparkling and hotly-anticipated new collection of products- those of internationally acclaimed product whizz-kid Jaime Hayon. He is showing his limited edition collection of decanters and glassware for Baccarat crystal. So high end established ‘names’ and those just starting are presented on an equal footings- a platform where design merit is presented democratically.
So, as curator, Orlandi’s approach is not typical retail. Experience and wonder is at the heart Orlandi’s world and the world she presents to us on through her ever-changing theatrical space of events and activities.
No point of experience is missed- from the hubbub of diners, food aromas and coffee greet you as you pass beneath the tumbling vines into the entrance space- this is a ‘living space’ which celebrates the connection of people. The sensual effect of nature, aromas, sounds and noise get you feeling upbeat even crossing your first threshold into the world she presents to you.
Rossana Orlandi’s talent is in offering an experience that is not just ‘shopping’. Essentially, yes, that is what you are here to do but so much care and attention for every stage of that journey leaves you with a feeling that you are quite privelliged to be privy to what she’s created. Attending the shows, events, showcases that Orlandi puts on builds up your loyalty to her offer and creates something unique and totally experiential.
Marie-France & Bernard Cohen/ Merci
Merci, understated in physical presence from the street, has had a great deal of though put into it in terms of a sensory journey into its’ interior. One of two adjacent street entrances take you to the shop either through their very special coffee shop lined from floor to ceiling with books, the ‘Used Book Café’, or via their very own florist, packed with fresh plants and flowers. Both powerfully aromatic sensory journey starting points.
The various architectural volumes of the shop have been designed to optimise the experience of the environment, providing drama and punctuation points for the retail journey that guides you from coffee to art to clothing to homewares. The knocked-out white brick warehouse atrium which spans your entry point from the café or florist into the clothing/ home-wares retail is overwhelming and spatially dramatic, also playing host to a variety of art and fashion events. A mezzanine above with open railings gives views to various different things on offer from furniture to clothing to pop-up wool and yarn ‘shop’.
Originally founders of renowned children’s clothing line Bonpoint, this new line is luxury charity shopping boutique. The creation of this super-boutique is overwhelmingly enhanced by the fact that all proceeds from the venture are donated to a childrens’ charity in Madagascar. Therefore Merci provides not only a breathtaking space but one where visitors can shop with a conscience.
Similarly to Orlandi, the Cohens have created a world of change wehre not only do you find designer clothes, all exhibited on the most interesting array of new and vintage props and pieces of furniture, but you will also find rotating art exhibitions, a central courtyard space which can host events and a series of changes to the various ‘departments’ of the shop.
The simple white-painted brick and steel girder aesthetic of the store creates the perfect backdrop from which modern can mix with traditional and second hand products. Again the store mixes home-ware, clothing and a café but its’ ability to combine understated luxury with philanthropy is what sets it apart from most of the world’s other concept stores.
Dover Street Market/ Rei Kawakubo
Dover Street Market, the London supermarket from the founder and director of Japanese brand ‘Comme des Garçons’, Rei Kawakubo is an exemplary case-study for the artist/ curator as shopkeeper. Stemming from the ‘guerilla’ pop-up shop culture, the emphasis from fixed fit-outs with a finite lifespan is to crate environments with a strong philosophy being is the cohering matter. Kawakubo’s philosophy for Dover Street Market is to create a modern bazaar-like environment where capsule collections of high-end fashion labels sit side by side with Comme des Garçons’ own collections. The idea of ‘curation’ for each collection drives the way each of the pieces is displayed, who sells them and which artists are commissioned to create the capsules from which things are displayed and sold. Each floor is different with the work of a variety of creative designers, artists and visionaries in the fashion world inventing new ways to display things to their best.
As well as the obvious seasonal changes to the contents of the shop, Rei constantly invents new collaborations with other brands as well as temporary new lines of her own. Recently, celebrating 40 years of Comme, Rei launched CDG BLACK line, a line where many of the most popular signature pieces were recreated in black. As well as aligning with the times philosophically with the launch coinciding with the peak of the recession, it was a work of business savvy with this line having a much lower price-point than the more expensive collections.
Some incredibly strong established brands in their own right such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel have also forged strong collaborations with Comme des Garçons. Downstairs, Chanel built a little French house complete with TV aerial and chimney to display a capsule collection. The maison was complete with a stall set up outside, under a white awning with a collection of accessories and jewellery. Apparently Mademoiselle Chanel herself used to have tables outside her Paris store selling perfumes. The whole thing, brilliantly done, seems completely at home amongst the avant-garde merchandise Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe and Christopher Kane.
Kawakubo’s ability to house such prestigious brands using the cardboardy aesthetic shows just quite how much appeal her brand has ascribed. It is telling that the future of some of the most luxurious brands in the world (or their artistic directors) appreciate that to continue to generate new clients and keep fresh and edgy as a brand, it is crucial to be seen to be venturing into the more creative and leftfield of contexts.
Other collaboraitons are with lesser known brands or artists/ designers with cult appeal amongst the discerning. Many of these are ‘urban’ brands such as ‘Supreme’ the skatewear brand or the artist KAWS, former graffiti artist and creator of a number of mickey mouse eared iconic plastic figurines.
The aesthetic of the space charts new retail territory and is un-challengingly jaw-dropping. A hollowed-out five storey concrete building forms the shell from which each floor takes you on a journey through luxury for the avant-garde. With a loose theme per floor, each of the different collections is housed within a series of customised ‘installations’. Designed with a similar philosophy to a market, where the organic growth and gradual adaption of stalls, various incongruous elements sit next to each other in perfect harmony. This controlled haphazardness allows for this retail environment to retail its’ freshness and appeal. There is something to be said about never knowing what is going to happen next and always being challenged and surprised by what does.
It is the boundless creative vision of Rei Kawakubo that holds every space in Dover Street Market together, from the box-like structures housing menswear collections on the second floor by Belgian artist Jan de Cock to the perfectly placed boutique slice of the Rose Bakery, from Paris on the fourth floor. This space and the multitude of ever-changing activities within it epitomises retail curation at its’ very best.
• See your retail space as an place for activities- events, art exhibitions, shows- really maximise the narratives around your brand which you present to your clients.
• The best retail curators build the collaborations they have in their environments into their collections- dynamic and covetable limited edition products such as Comme des Garçons X Kaws dramatically increase the amount of interest, and add a different programme beyond the seasons.
• Learning from Rei Kawakubo and Rosanna Orlandi- if you need to bring a skill into your environment such as coffee or food, think about aligning with someone who delivers the best of this offer- ie Rose Bakery at Dover Street Market
• In terms of offering variety, all of the best concept retailers have built incredibly strong environments where people shop as a destination and take their time over the varying landscape of what is on offer. We have seen in recent years, the super-boutiques such as 10 Corso Como, Milan and Colette, Paris that by curating a myriad collection of the things your customers like into your space, you can increase your power and value to them.
• Having a core creative ability at the heart of your business is key to capturing the hearts and minds of your clients
Howard Sullivan is joint director of YOUR Studio Ltd, an interiors and branding agency who specialise in creating the world’s leading retail experiences. See us here, or contact
Words: Howard Sullivan
Research: Isobel Scott