Are Fashion Boutiques the New Galleries?

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

World class architects, the finest materials and curated spaces. You would be apt to think we are talking about museums or art galleries, but no, this is the latest in luxury retail, where brands aim to entice shoppers with a unique experience not found anywhere else.

Take the new Christopher Kane store on Mount Street, designed by minimalist architect John Pawson, which features an off-white palette, mirrored surfaces and transparent display cases. Nothing to detract from the clothes, in the most luxurious surroundings possible.

At Celine the accessories are displayed like artefacts

A few doors down is the new Celine boutique, all marble, parquet flooring, sculptured displays. Here Phoebe Philo worked with Danish artist Thomas Poulsen to design furniture, including lighting and the daybeds. The shoes and bags seem more like curated artefacts, and the entire space echoes of a gallery more than a retail environment.

Just a short stroll from Mount Street is Dover Street, where Comme des Garcons a decade ago paved the way for minimalist, urban retail design. Founder Rei Kawakubo has called her approach to store curation "beautiful chaos" and Dover Street Market regularly features exhibitions and installations throughout the store and in its windows.

Directly across Dover Street Market lies the new Victoria Beckham boutique, designed by Farshid Moussavi. Moussavi says“the more we have the internet, the more physical space becomes powerful”. In the case of the store, Beckham has a successful online business, so her store functions as “a gallery”. It is a generous series of spaces on three levels, dominated by grand staircases, diagonal geometry and mirrored ceilings, walls and counters. The products are almost incidental – a light scattering of bags greets you on a wall whose shelves are retractable, so that the space can be used for events. Later you find clothes hanging on a gold-coloured saw-tooth rack – which stops the hangers sliding irritatingly together – or on chains hanging from the ceiling.

Consumers don't just want to shop. They want an experience, they want brands to understand them, just as much as they want to buy into something unique. Prada's long time relationship with Rem Koolhaas is a good example, who transformed the former downtown New York Guggenheim into a Prada sphere, which at the time set a new benchmark for store curation: the sweeping staircase, the glass cabinets of handbags and the rows of mannequins transformed the way boutiques were designed.

If we look at what luxury means today, it is craftsmanship, time and space. It is the former and latter that is taking the concept of retail into a new physical experience for brands.

Images: Victoria Beckham, Christopher Kane, Prada NYC

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