As the Liverpool Tate celebrates the affinity between art and shopping with the exhibition A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, we are again reminded of how brands are the new gods. Even traditional strongholds of communism such as China are falling victim to consumerism’s most evident symptom: shopping.
In retail terms, brands are being either translated for different markets with a nod to cultural differences or applied with a uniform look, an approach that, at its worst, has often provoked anti-globalisation activists’ scorn.
According to independent retail consultant Clive Vaughan, moving to another country isn’t that simple. In China, for example, the biggest problem for a fashion retailer is the price point. ‘British Home Stores, which in the UK caters for a lower-middle market, would be perceived [in China] as extremely expensive,’ he says. Vaughan underlines how important it is to understand the Chinese market and consumer, how to adapt the offer in a way which would be deemed suitable, how to lay out the shop and display merchandise.
So far, Chinese success stories have been spearheaded by WalMart and Carrefours, with Tesco and B&Q looking to expand shortly. ‘China is such a big economy,’ says Vaughan, ‘It’s a country you have to get right, and the rewards can be enormous.’
In the meantime, he reckons the Middle East is proving an easier market in terms of economy, and the success of Villa Moda, a £40m temple to fashion launched in Kuwait by Sheikh Majed al-Sabah certainly proves the point. While western Europe is far too competitive, Vaughan thinks eastern Europe could also offer interesting developments.
Yet cross-cultural design issues can exist even for the most affluent and known markets such as the US. Sawicki Tarella, a New York-based design and architecture group, specialises in translating foreign retail store concepts for the American market. Its ability to understand differences between cultures, and communicate them to the American market has won it a list of prestigious clients such as Alfred Dunhill, Smythson of Bond Street, Laura Ashley and Thomas Pink of London and, in the immediate future, De Beers.
Adapting pre-existing formats means not only ‘keeping in check the architect’s ego,’ says Sawicki Tarella partner Joe Tarella, but most importantly, understanding local legislation, brand guidelines and ensuring that ‘communication flows between all of the different people involved’.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are fashion labels such as Stella McCartney or Paul Smith, which consciously decide to market the brand with individual, tailored design solutions for each city of their planned expansions.
Stella McCartney New York
Design: Universal Design Studio
Lighting design: Campbell Lighting Design
Specialist graphics: Made Thought
Tiles and hangers: Barber Osgerby
Set in the fashionable New York meatpacking district, Stella McCartney’s flagship store is the first in a number of stores to be launched worldwide. Her brief for London-based Universal Design Studio – the interiors and architectural group set up as an independent enterprise by furniture duo Barber Osgerby – was to create a relaxed environment where customers would be free to explore and discover her creations.
The store was designed along three main themes: nature, relaxation and discovery. An abstract landscape, created in a series of elements of differing scales, provides the setting for displaying the collections. Floor contours and levels form a diversified terrain, while a window display is set in water with lily-esque display sculptures. Divisions are kept fluid, with hanging screens that are meant to recall long grass and furniture which can be rearranged according to needs. An interior wall is decorated in hexagonal whi
te ceramics designed by Barber Osgerby, while McCartney turned her own hand to embroidery with a pattern for the fabric wall.
The relaxation theme is further enhanced by the visible absence of a till in the front of house, allowing the shop floor to be used for browsing rather than overt transactions. The discovery element can be found in subtle details such as niches created by hanging screens and rotating mirrors.
The next Stella McCartney store will open just off Bond Street in London this spring, but with a very different look, since as Jonathan J Clarke, studio director at Universal Design Studio, explains, ‘While some brands use uniformity in their store concepts to reinforce identity, the main thing all of McCartney’s stores will have in common is their individuality. This results in part from the varying specifications of the buildings themselves, but, more importantly, from McCartney’ s desire not to create a “format”. Of course, there are components that are common to all the stores, but they will be translated from location to location.’
Dunhill New York
Design: Sawicki Tarella
Lighting design: Caps and Ansorg
According to Sawicki Tarella partner Jo Tarella, the most important thing to consider when translating a foreign brand is to ‘respect it for what it is. There must be a submerging of egos on behalf of the architect,’ he says. ‘A lot of thought has gone into creating the brand, so it is wrong to insult, assume things or impose ideas – these projects come with a history.’
For Dunhill in particular, the architect had to consider all the three different ownership groups, Cristophe Carpente of Zurich design group Caps, who designed the original concept, and the merchandising and marketing teams – who all wanted to have their say.
As the London store was the new concept store, the New York store had to follow the brand guidelines and at the same time adapt them to the different environment – in this case, a two-storey space. ‘With the New York store, Dunhill is maintaining its existing customer base while attempting to expand it by being in a better location than it was before,’ says Sawicki Tarella’s George Sawicki.
New materials were introduced to the store interiors, including bamboo and leather flooring, copper and bronze metalwork and Marmorino-finished fixtures. The key design element – which doesn’t exist in the London store, but will be used throughout all the other US stores – is the wall display system. The system is a mosaic of interlocking and interrelated internally illuminated boxes, appropriately named Boxwall. Other Dunhill stores that Sawicki Tarella has recently completed are in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Chloe London and Monaco
Design: Sophie Hicks Architects
Lighting design: Ove Arup & Partners
Sophie Hicks Architects was appointed to develop the concept for the new ChloÃ© stores in collaboration with Pheobe Philo, the artistic director of ChloÃ©. The London flagship store, opened in early December 2002, is the blueprint for all the future boutiques that are due to open in Monaco, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Seoul early this year.
The brief was ‘to capture the essence of ChloÃ© as a brand, and is inspired by the image of Philo,’ says Sophie Hicks, founder of SH Architects. To acquire an in-depth knowledge, Hicks shadowed Philo for a couple of weeks, scrutinising the choices she makes and how she works. ‘There is an attitude in ChloÃ© that I tried to capture in the stores. It’s rich and luxurious, but there is also a street-side, which is more cutting edge and that is difficult to reflect in architecture because architecture is so solid,’ she says.
To solve this, Hicks contrasted materials choosing, for example, sparkling, expensive-looking translucent screens that stand next to shuttering ply walls. Flashy gold-plated rails are offset by large hi-fi speakers, created in Notting Hill carnival-style and clad in black nylon carpet. The high ceilings are painted in white gloss paint while the changing rooms are a sexy alcove in black satin, low ceilings and soft lighting.
‘The Monaco store, which will open on Boulevard des Moulins, will have the same look, with only some slight changes due to the size,’ according to Hicks. ‘All the stores, for example, will have salmon pink marble tables and the same lighting scheme, which is similar to the lighting that you might find in a museum, where you’ll see spotlights modelling or flooding the clothes just as you would light a sculpture or a painting.’
Hicks underlines how fashion brands tend to expand in two distinct ways – either going for a consistent store look such as ChloÃ©, or opting for a tailored approach such as Paul Smith, for whom the consultancy has also worked with. m