In Madrid, an indie fashion brand shows the value of investing in retail design

Madrid – There’s a stretch in Salamanca, one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the Spanish capital, called the Golden Mile. From Manolo Blahnik and Louis Vuitton to Cartier and Bulgari, it’s the place to be for established luxury brands.

And yet, one of the standout retail spaces in the area actually belongs to a local indie brand: Malababa.

Founded in 2000 by husband-and-wife duo Ana Carrasco and Jaime Lara, the shoes and accessories manufacturer already had some brick-and-mortar spaces around the country. They had mostly handled the setup and décor themselves. ‘This brand actually grew organically from a project with no business plan,’ Carrasco explained. ‘It was only three years ago that we felt it was time to work on branding and retail design at another level.’

That’s why the new store on Serrano Street presented a unique set of challenges: not only did they have to compete for eyeballs with some rather shiny peacocks nearby, but also overseas, as this space would become a test lab for a possible international expansion – although their pieces are available throughout Europe and Asia, they are sold through third-party retailers. That’s when the couple decided to enlist the help of Ciszak Dalmas Studio and Matteo Ferrari, who were behind a set of shopping-experience projects for brands like Zara and Max&Co. ‘We had seen their previous projects and saw, over and over, how they worked with passion and generosity,’ she added. ‘I don’t believe in handing over commissions to mercenary designers. Instead, we sensed that Alberto [Gobbino Ciszak], Andrea [Caruso Dalmas] and Matteo [Ferrari] look at the creative world the same way we do.’

That synergy between product and environment is clearly visible in the store. Malababa is a no-logo brand, instead resorting to local craftsmanship, sustainability and quality to differentiate their shoes and handbags. Those values are clearly translated in the space: take, for example, the leather curtains. The item was manufactured by one of the brand’s own master craftsmen, Osvaldo Ruben Thomas, repurposing the same tanned cowhide leather that was used in the Métrica accessories collection.

The result is a love letter to the knowing hands and the exquisite natural resources that have turned Spain into a high-quality manufacturing haven

‘Everything in this space called for authenticity and honesty in the materials used, just like they do with their own pieces,’ explained Gobbino Ciszak. That’s why the lattice structure is made of bricks manufactured by hand in Toledo, using mud from Extremadura quarries and baked in a biomass-fueled oven. That’s also why the furniture modules are made with limestone from Seville and the walls are rendered with a mix of Galician clay, white marble power from Almería and all-natural food thickeners. The result is, truly, a love letter to the knowing hands and the exquisite natural resources that have turned Spain into a high-quality manufacturing haven.

For Carrasco, the bet has paid off. After fielding constant questions about the curtains and the lattice structure – no, they’re not for sale – she’s overheard customers walking in and wondering whether it really is a Spanish store. Some of them have even asked ‘This has been made in a different way, hasn't it?’ That, beyond the sales numbers, is how she knows the message about their production and design values are coming across. ‘Customers now see us on a different, superior level: we’ve become the future version of ourselves.’

Location Calle de Serrano 8, 28001 Madrid

The Malababa flagship by Ciszak Dalmas and Matteo Ferrari is one of the participating projects in the Spatial Awards - Retail category in the upcoming edition of the Frame Awards.

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