Finnish retail chain CitySokos has a listed building in Helsinki as its flagship store. This example of modern, functional architecture was originally designed in the 1930s but actually built in the 1950s. When the 22-strong chain decided to redefine its offer, it also had to rethink interiors to match the change. RPA Europe was brought in to create concepts within the constraints of working in the listed building in April 1995.

‘Fashion first and foremost is the ethic behind CitySokos’ change,’ says RPA design director Mike Gilling. ‘Part of our brief was to move the flagship away from a general department store – in the John Lewis mould – to a fashion-led store,’ he says.

The consultancy is working with Finnish architect J Pallasmaa on redesigning interiors for the tenstorey building, which was originally a hotel, with retail space only on the ground floor. Gradually, retail has taken over more space and five floors are now trading, says Gilling.

A central feature of the concept is an atrium which runs from the sixth floor to the second. ‘This gives the option of creating retail trading space on the sixth floor,’ says Gilling.

The overall interiors concept and graphics, also designed by RPA, are meant ‘to generate excitement for the fashion’, says Gilling. ‘We’ve created a restored shell as a permanent, high quality backdrop to the fashion, which will constantly change.’

Although Citysokos initially wanted a store which would appeal to an international clientele, RPA has combined ‘the strong Finnish design approach’ using natural materials and high quality finishes to rebuild customer loyalty, explains Gilling.

Work is being carried out in phases, with each department opening on a gradual roll-out basis. Completion is due in September.

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