Skin deep

Walk into any cosmetics store these days and you are invited not only to buy a host of covetous products, but also to buy into a carefully crafted marketing language and mission statement. Whether you are a Body Shop fan or into Aveda, it won’t just be what’s in the pots that lures you over the threshold.

Interior display and layout are key players in the game to offer shoppers a unique retail experience, and the trick is to get the packaging to sit happily on the shelf – no easy task when there is so much to distract in these busy stores.

Health and beauty is a serious business and no more so than in the US. New York City’s SoHo area is currently the cosmetics heartland – dubbed “Skin Row” by the local beauty industry – with stores like the loudly-hyped 5S and Face Stockholm relatively new entrants.

The UK, as well as importing stores such as the upmarket Mac from Canada and Australia’s decidedly down-to-earth offer Lush, also has some home-grown chains. Space NK Apothecary set the tone in the UK with its clean bright interiors designed by Hodgkinson & Co. The consultancy also designed the wall fixtures and island units, and the chain, which has been such a success, continues to roll out.

Virgin Vie has found it more difficult to strike the right note with consumers, misjudging the pull of the Virgin brand in such an environment. The new concept – a U-turn from the original upmarket image – is the work of Revolution and Clinic.

Many stores have put environmental friendliness into their mix, an approach pioneered by The Body Shop, and brought up-to-date for today’s consumer. Mac, Aveda, Lush and 5S all purport to ecological practices, and this is often depicted in display systems as well as packaging and communications material.

Aveda, which originated in the US, is now a worldwide chain and even runs themed spas. It arrived on London’s Marylebone High Street last spring, with interiors by architect Jamie Foubert. Aveda offers a more earthy version of Space NK, or what Aveda itself describes as “cutting edge eco chic”.

While many of the overseas chains are making their way to the UK, French store Sephora is yet to plan a UK site. Owned by Louis Vuitton, Sephora is 52-strong in France and operates another 100 shops worldwide. It is recognisable by its trademark black and white striped interiors and opened its first US store last spring.

In the long run, the next cosmetics phenomenon to make its way across the pond could well be nail bars. These manicure and varnishing shops are springing up all over the US, and if coffee and soup are anything to go by, (two other booming retail concepts that originated Stateside), we can expect to be nipping out for a quick polish any day now.

As a consumer with a designer’s sensitivities, Guilia Landor of Spencer Landor cast her eye around the cosmetic offerings in New York and London to compare approaches to display.

98 Prince Street, New York

Designed by Naoki Ijima Design Studio in Tokyo Mission statement: own your mind and body

Set up by Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido, this concept is intended to appeal to the five senses. Naoki Ijima designed the company’s showroom in Japan. Among other display units, 5S features a ‘mingle table’ where customers can ‘experiment, test, play or just hang with the girls’, according to the store’s blurb.

‘Despite the strong brand identity, I found the interiors rather disappointing. The concept and design seemed a bit derivative to me – rather like Bath and Body Works. It was very pink and fluffy in appearance and the displays are all on round tables with a central area for make-up demonstrations. Nothing particularly radical or interesting to me. It is all a little over-done, even pretentious, but then I doubt I’m the sort of person they are trying to appeal to.’

Aveda

28-29 Marylebone High Street, London, WDesigned by Jamie Foubert

The interiors feature globally sourced furniture: antique Indonesian hard wood recycled into custom made furniture, pig iron and concrete. The layout is structured according to the principles of feng shui, hence the salt water fish tank in the middle of the store. The ground floor interiors are divided into a product area, a café called Love, and florist Parterre. ‘It feels industrial and loft-like. The look is organic and has a warehouse feel with the rough unfinished ceiling and unfinished plaster work. The wall signs are plain – a conflict with the packaging and different styles of photography – hair care, skin care, intelligent nutrients, lifestyle. Colour isn’t used as a strong element of the brand identity. There is good use of logs as shelving and wooden boxes hanging from the walls.’

Lush

40 Carnaby Street, London, W1

Designed in-house

Lush hopes to inject some fun and frivolity into the cosmetics world, and its fresh and handmade products are intended to work on your mind as well as your body. Products have tongue-in-cheek names such as Gumbo Express Smoothie, All That Jasmine, face mask Aroma-Bread and shaving cream Razorantium.

‘There is definitely a concept here. The interiors are like a food shop or delicatessen. The product becomes the display, with soaps piled like cheeses, and then wrapped deli-style or sold in egg carton boxes. The handwritten blackboard-style graphics are strong but the packaging graphics are busy. Display units comprise crude wooden shelving, stools and tables, with big coloured Perspex boxes for the talcs.’

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