Review of Shoreditch's Boxpark mall
‘I believe I’ve connected the dots of my life’, announces Roger Wade, founder of Boxpark, at the launch of what he claims to be ‘the world’s first pop up mall’ in east London this morning.
A full 12 months after announcing the plans, the project has finally come to fruition, offering visitors a mall consisting of shipping containers stacked together and repurposed as individual brand outlets.
Each store is home to an individual brand - ranging from established names such as Puma to smaller outlets, such as Finnish clothes and homeware store Marimekko, and of course One Piece, a Norwegian brand selling predominantly - wait for it - onesies.
The introductory video features various talking heads shot in moody monochrome declaring their love for the development. ‘It’s the coolest part of the coolest city in the coolest country in the world’, declares one. ‘I heart Boxpark’, deadpanly declares another.
But while the brands housed within the development are understandably enthusiastic about it, and Wade regales his life-long love of, er, containers (stemming from his earthy beginnings selling on Greenwich market, apparently) - the important thing is, does it work? And, central to that, does it look good?
Behind the hyperbole, the answer is, mostly, yes. The beauty of Boxpark is that the concept itself - the well-worn ‘pop-up’ notion; the shipping container idea (already used by Illy Café New York, Puma in Chicago, and Freitag in Zurich, as Boxpark readily admits); and it’s east London location - all take a back-seat, and it’s the individual brand’s innovative takes on retail design that become the heroes of the space.
With a strong bias towards sport-fashion labels, the sense of purpose, functionality and slick design is perhaps to be expected, but the way each brand has taken the very limited space each container offers is impressive.
There’s the spaghetti-western shack-type affair of Cyber Candy, with its mock-weathered wood and oldie-worldie sweet offerings; the clean, crisp lines of Puma; the Japanese street-art and fake-vending machine of Evisu, designed by recent surface design graduate CJ Pidlaoan. We also like the cutesy, modern, yet heritage-feel Gola store, designed in-house by a team led by graphic designer Simon Wilson, with shoes moulded into cute letterforms.
As such, each spaces becomes it’s own, rather than simply a piece of the Boxpark jigsaw.
Design is also at the fore for the beverage offers. The Hop Vietnamese cafe seems large, spacious and (despite the ‘industrial feel’ Wade is so keen on) - sophisticated, with dark, atmospheric, incense-infused interiors.
Pieminister’s signature branding and illustrations, by in-house artists John Simon and Ryan Thomas respectively, is used to great effect, with large graphics on the wall, yet the space feels like a ‘proper’ restaurant.
Though each store has undoubtedly succeeded in taking its brand message and amplifying it as far as its four walls of its box will allow, it seems that it’s the smaller, less established brands that succeed most of all.
Lacoste Live (an offshoot aimed at a ‘creatively fuelled consumer’, according to the brand’), for instance, features nods to ‘trendy’ Shoreditch that feel a bit forced -with a retro Space Invaders game tucked in the corner feeling like an arbitrary afterthought.
And some stores, such as upmarket burger joint Bukoskwi, seem to have appropriated the rather tired ‘Shoreditch’ look - basically posh, but faux-weathered branding, and interiors to match - making it feel slightly like a pastiche of the already plentiful outlets in the area.
Less established brands however, such as Marimekko, feel as though they have designed the space under the assumption it will work, without overtly tailoring the space towards its location or anticipated customer demographic, giving it a confident and established feel of its own.
With leases ranging from a tentative one-year to a more confident five years, only time will tell how the Boxpark concept can work for brand and how they can design the spaces to the maximum advantage.
However, with the news revealed this morning that Wade plans to open another Boxpark in London by next Christmas, and the announcement that Carphone Warehouse founder Charles Dunstone has come on boards as a silent partner, it seems that the founders, at least, are hugely confident of its success.