Brands have long understood the need to localize their offer, even those for whom their position as global status symbols is central to their appeal. But localization strategies have often lacked true cultural nuance or taken into account the specific context of each store. Instead of aiming for deeper forms of engagement between a foreign brand and its overseas audience, stores have tended to lightly camouflage their look and feel in the hope that they won’t appear out of place. But today’s consumers are the most educated and enfranchised generation we’ve ever seen, and demand that brands engage them at high emotional and intellectual level if they are to grab their attention, let alone generate loyalty. That is why leading brands are repositioning their store designs as an opportunity for cross-cultural exchange, demonstrating to the surrounding community that they want to develop mutual understanding, rather than simply blending in. Here are three stores from 2019 which we think achieved an elevated level of dialogue.


Finding shared aesthetic philosophies

Located in the esteemed Omotesando Hills shopping mall, Marni’s flagship is a significant vote of confidence in the Japanese market as it makes for the brand’s 22nd store in the country. And that move is right on the nose: growing steadily after being destabilized in the 2011 financial crisis, Japan’s luxury market is back to being one of the largest in the world.

Marni aimed to pay homage to the local by playing ‘with the architectural elements typical of [its] retail projects’ while ‘harmoniously dialoguing with the place that houses it.’ In Japanese art and design, curved shapes are thought to evoke inspiration and intuition. While steel, wave-shaped hanging rails and large, circular lighting fixtures are signature touches in Marni’s boutiques worldwide, the team members took their appreciation for sinuous geometry a step further in the new flagship by overtaking the 300-sq-m space with undulating elements and architecture.

As Western retailers navigate how to best establish their relevance in Japan’s contemporary luxury market, it’s evident that it pays for fashion brands to show they ‘know’ their consumer. Marni has done just this, fusing cultural reverence with on-brand visual cues rather than simply relying on importing the latter to reel clients in.

Read more here.

Embracing your material surroundings

Placed next to the very bright lights of Radio City Music Hall, any space can look drowned out. That’s why, instead of fighting the landmark’s shine, the Camper team decided to complement instead of competing. Guest designer Jonathan Olivares took the conceptual helm of the Rockefeller Center location, paying tribute to its surroundings. The displays, benches and service desk, designed to look like arcade columns, are made from Indiana limestone, the same material used on the iconic building’s façade. In terms of colour, the store’s interior is painted silver and a large neon Camper logo uses the red and blue shades of the Radio City marquee. ‘The store’s design engages its location, bringing aspects of the surrounding architecture into the shop and celebrating them,’ explained Olivares.

This mirrors a tactic the brand employed for its Kengo Kuma-designed space in Barcelona. The new Camper store is an exercise in modular ingenuity: a group of tightly assembled half-circles of raw ceramic, wide enough to fit an adult shoe, create a kaleidoscopic wallpaper of shelves. The overall arrangement nods to Antoni Gaudí’s panot, a hexagonal floor tile that still paves the street outside. The nakedness of the ceramic pieces also point to the city’s rooftops. The elements, so thin and large that they proved almost impossible to make, were produced by the legendary Ceràmica Cumella, whose tiles line the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Batlló.

Read more here.


Using sound’s power as an emotive medium

Urban Revivo is China’s answer to Zara: a highly vertical fast fashion retailer with its eyes set far beyond its motherland. Founded in 2006, the company has more than 200 stores within China. Now, its first European outing is located in London’s Westfield shopping mall.

So, how does a new-to-us brand stand out in a sea of retail spaces? Instead of focusing exclusively on visual aspects, Domani Architectural Concepts figured out a way to break through the noise: the team decided used sound sculptures throughout the 2,500-sq-m shop.

‘Facing cultural and aesthetic globalization, we focused on regional and emotional symbols,’ explained Domani co-founder Ann Yu. ‘That’s what leads to an exclusive and aggressive business image.’

The horn-shaped white speakers play soundbites and soundscapes not just from different regions of China, but also from places far from typical Western reach. Instead of being always active on a loop, each sculpture includes a movement sensor, in order to create a halo of personalized discovery for individual shoppers.

‘There’s a reason why we linked the sensors to sound,’ explained Yu. ‘We wanted to establish a behavioral correlation between customer postures and the devices, as they point to the loss of cultural diversity that comes from following a single political logic.’

Read more here.

This is the first in a collection of trend roundups that reflect on this year in retail. Stay tuned through the last few days of December for the rest.