08 Apr 2017 • Interview
Uniqlo 5th Avenue gets a graphic grand statement
Floors, staircases and columns: almost every surface in Uniqlo’s Fifth Avenue store is covered in bright graphic patterns from the hands Sigrid Calon, one of the artists represented in Frame’s Herengracht and Felix Meritis pop-up stores.
By taking the existing architecture as a canvas, the installation – set in place to promote the brand’s MoMA-inspired SuperGeometric collection – makes an omnipresent impact on the space’s appearance and visual merchandising. Dutch designer Calon explains how her spatial intervention echoes the brand’s products and collections, and describes the challenges she faced in creating an in-store activation on a prime retail destination.
What was your brief and how did you approach it?
Sigrid Calon: The first proposal from Uniqlo was to design notebooks for their new SuperGeometric collection, which features images of various works from the MOMA including those of Sol LeWitt and François Morellet.
The brand’s red Japanese logo was my starting point. The logo exists of four characters, which to me are like abstract signs, since I don’t speak or read the language. My design language is very abstract too, so I set out to create my own four, completely new, characters, which I could then apply to the notebooks.
In addition to the notebooks, I was asked to design an installation for their NYC store on Fifth Avenue. Luckily, I had visited the space before and knew the store had an enormous and very overwhelming entrance, with lots of mirrors, a beautiful mezzanine and great staircases. The location attracts a lot of traffic, so, in creating the installation, I had to think practical. Therefore I decided to use elements that were already there, starting with the two columns reaching to the top floor, and wrap them completely, which immediately set the tone for the rest of the space.
Your print patterns have previously been used in eyewear and other personal objects – how was the transition to working with prints on such a large scale for the in-store promotion of your SuperGeometric collection?
I have no problems switching in scale when it comes to my work. It’s important to be aware of the fact that different disciplines require a different approach and empathy. But how great is it to get the opportunity to present your work in such a big space on a prime location! If you get that chance, you want to make an impact. And Uniqlo helped me to really think large with the installation.
The brand’s red Japanese logo was my starting point
How did you manage to create an immersive spatial activation that doesn’t compete with the merchandise too much?
I mainly focused on making the installation look interesting from different perspectives, to give visitors a complete experience. If an artwork is really good, it will stand out even in places where there is a lot of ‘noise’ and not just white walls. Because this work was site-specific, it was designed to enhance this location especially.
And the fact that the collection itself is mainly black-and-white whereas the installation is very colourful helped to avoid too much visual contrast.
What were the challenges you faced when designing the in-store installation?
It was quite a puzzle to create a good balance in the space. In the atrium are four sets of two columns, and since I created four ‘characters’, I aimed to use one for each set, applying the same colours. Each side of the columns is treated differently, and looks different from every angle. On the floors, the patterns are used as ‘wayfinding’, directing visitors to the collection.
In the display units, some elements of your prints become the hooks that hold merchandise. Do you envision more potential applications like this for your work?
This was the first time that my graphics have become three-dimensional and turned into functional interior elements. The idea of adding an extra layer to my works has been in my head in a while, and in this project they were realized. I believe I could develop this approach further in autonomous sculptures, but the challenge is to keep finding new ways to apply this both aesthetically and functionally.
If an artwork is really good, it will stand out even in places where there is a lot of ‘noise’
In an increasingly digital world, how important is the role of presentation in today’s physical retail spaces?
Very important, I believe. I like it when things are concrete, when you can feel and experience materials and textures, but also the space itself. It is good to note that there are physical and qualitative differences between digital and real images.
It would be an interesting development if there would be more collaborations between retailers and artists. If shopping becomes more of an experience, you might be more inclined to get up and physically go to the store, as opposed to buying things online. And the temporary nature of installations such as the one I made for Uniqlo gives retail spaces the immediacy of a performance or exhibition. You have to go see it.