The latter half of 2018 showed us that retail’s love affair with stainless steel is only growing stronger: we saw the material celebrated everywhere, from a bookshop in Hangzhou, a floral studio in Russia and a fashion retailer in Montreal. The parallels ran even deeper than steel, though: these locations also illustrate similarities in their bold colour accents, precise spatial geometries and bright white, clinical lighting – today’s oppositional answer to exposed beams and reclaimed wood.

Wellsky, a 100-sq-m womenswear store designed by Xian Xiang Design in Hangzhou, fits within this pattern rather than presenting a new one. Yet, it does beg attention to the persistence of increasingly futurist spaces: in Hangzhou especially, competition in the creation of legitimately avant-garde spaces is getting tougher, with shopping malls that would put a modern-day Willy Wonka to shame and local studios outsourcing their talents to other areas in the country.

For Xianxiang, designing Wellsky was all about bringing humanity into the space and boomeranging the retail experience back to shopping: the design capitalises on the fact that, despite our hunger for spaces with increasingly tech-based aesthetic tropes, we still need to be connected to offline elements that keep us from buying online.

In the shop, linear structures are offset by repetitive circular motifs, as cut-outs in steel panels and lighting fixtures. Archways create the illusion of a maze-like floor plan, albeit being open, and a bubble-gum pink filter highlights the garment displays by linking the two areas. Light was an important tool in this project: it literally grounds the dressing room mirrors, bringing in a buttery glow to emanate a spacey ambiance while trying on garments.

Retail environments now need to challenge and disrupt visual normalcy to entice without selling an unattainable digital fantasy

Venturing into brick-and-mortar as e-commerce sinks its teeth in the consumer market relies on aesthetic confidence: retail environments now need to challenge and disrupt visual normalcy to entice without selling an unattainable digital fantasy. Shoppers might want Mars, but not if it means sacrificing Earthly luxuries like vanity lighting and a cashmere coat – in just the right size – hanging on a meticulously spaced rack.