Fitting tribute

Shelving can be so much more than the backbone of a product display why not make it dazzling through its playfulness, sculptural quality or sheer surreal impact? Laura Snoad considers a range of artistic answers to the question of how to display your goods

Whether showcasing high-end, large-scale design products or small pieces of quirky jewellery, retail display units must tread the line between effectively supporting and telling a brand story without distracting from the star of the show the products.

’The word shelving sounds so boring’, says Henrik Ørgreen, creative director of international eyewear brand Ørgreen. ’We wanted to create something that people would come in to look at like art.’

The merchandising display system for Ørgreen’s flagship store, which opened four weeks ago in Copenhagen, Denmark, was designed, like the brand’s distinctive glasses frames, by Ørgreen and the in-house creative team. They are intended to reflect the brand’s handmade, bespoke style.

Inspired by dashboards from vintage 1950s and 1960s cars, as well as by the glasses themselves, Ørgreen chose a 22-degree angle the signature of his frame design to lead the shape of the bespoke, dark wood cabinets that house the frames. These cabinets dominate the space something that the product, because of its delicate nature, is not able to do.

The bespoke, LED-lit display units created in March by Unibox and Lumenal in collaboration with Design Research Studio for Tom Dixon’s shop at London’s Portobello Dock have a similarly sculptural quality. Because of the demands of the listed, Victorian brick-vaulted warehouse, all the units had to be free-standing and reconfigurable so that they could be reshaped as new products are added.

Though briefed to create display systems that looked like permanent architectural sculptures, Unibox and Lumenal worked to make the units as flexible as possible, using a lightweight aluminium composite and a UV-bonded glass.

Unibox and Lumenal managing director Nick Wraith says, ’By making everything lightweight, it saves money, as professional shopfitters don’t have to be brought in every time the units need to be reconfigured the girls in the shop can do it easily themselves.’

The finished design includes matt black shelves that echo the building’s black steelwork and windows, and mirror surfaces that reflect the metallic finishes of Dixon’s current collections. The result blurs the lines between retail display units and the objects on sale, creating a space where the products especially Dixon’s glowing light fittings are reflected to infinity.

Universal Design Studio’s creation for Mulberry’s North of England flagship store in Manchester also picked up on design details of the products. So glass cabinets are edged in brass, echoing the trademark brass hardware of Mulberry’s bags.

Universal Design Studio split the shop into two zones the ’garden’ and the ’drawing room’ to differentiate between seasonal, colourful products and the classics in Mulberry’s distinctive oaty and tan tones.

The way products are displayed in each zone varies considerably. In the garden, the fittings are made from untreated woods on white embossed lacquer, featuring an informal, flexible system of tables, hooks and rails. Universal Design Studio associate director Hannah Carter-Owers says, ’It’s informal, the feel is a lot less restrictive, the product is really free.’

She adds, ’The drawing room space is more traditionally luxurious. A lot of the materials used like the brass and the leather will age well. As they get older, they’ll develop a character and a story.’ Much like Mulberry’s classic bags, then.

The drawing room houses a number of the brass-edged glass cases, and neutral wood shelving, where families of products can be housed together and ’hero’ products distinguished in a flexible hierarchy, says Carter-Owers.

Flow and product families were similarly important for 42 Architects’ twisting system of black PVC-coated tubes created to display Topshop’s autumn/winter 2011 collection to the press last month. Swirls, swooshes, vortexes and eddies lead the visitor around the collection, promoting different patterns of movement depending on the shape of the rail.

Supernova Studio similarly used distinctive display units to define the space for fashion shop Kokoo Boutique in Nicosia, Cyprus. Inspired by Surrealist artists including René Magritte, Supernova Studio developed a playful interior design centered around 100 sawn-off umbrella handle hooks on a random grid, along with a golden egg ceiling installation and a blue acrylic chicken-shaped display case.

Supernova Studio co-founder Neil Matthew says, ’We had something in mind that was very visually strong. The units are not only practical, but they double up as a Surrealist aesthetic installation, especially when you look up into the ceiling centrepiece and see all the elements reflected in the gold finish of the egg.’

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