Sticking to a digital-first business model can mean brick-and-mortar success

Having launched in 2014 with a direct-to-consumer business model, Swedish footwear brand Axel Arigato has built a cult following around the globe for its stripped-back, streetwear-infused approach to luxury. Cofounder and creative director Max Svärdh explains how working with a digital-first model has freed him and his team to take an innovative approach to brick-and-mortar venues, opening two new stores this year alone, in Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Going offline

MAX SVӒRDH: ‘We embrace everything online has to offer, but we also love physical experiences – you can’t touch a photo or a website; they’re just images. So for us it’s really important that our customers can walk into a store and experience the true DNA of Axel Arigato. Launching a physical store is also a great moment to really think about the brand and how you translate it into a real-life, cultural space. We always knew we wanted to do something totally different to what was already out there. The normal model for a sneaker brand is to cover every inch of the walls in products – literally stacked from floor to ceiling. We turn this on its head and avoid the walls completely, displaying our product on podiums in the centre of the room instead, giving it more of a gallery feel. The concept needed to be very clean and clear – an escape from the busyness of our digital lives.’

Our stores should be way more than just transaction points

Nothing is attached to the floor in an Axel Arigato store (the Stockholm boutique is pictured), which provides the gallery aesthetic the brand is after and makes it easy to rearrange displays.

Making a soft sell

‘One thing I was very clear about is that our stores should be way more than just transaction points. I wanted to create a space where people could come in to catch up with mates or see some live music or look at a cool new sculpture. We’ve always been interested in culture more broadly at Axel Arigato, so the stores have to represent that – they need to embody all the things that we love. For me, the era in which physical retail is about shoving products down someone's throat is over. We’ve focused on events ever since we opened the London store [in 2016], working with both emerging artists and bigger names like Stefflon Don or Deadmau5. We held an amazing festival called Posthuman earlier this year in Copenhagen, which took our cultural programming to the next level. We remove all products from cultural events, because they’re not the time nor the place for selling sneakers. It’s about selling the brand and showing what we’re all about.’

The perfect space

‘When looking for a new location we always start with the footfall – that’s really the most obvious and important thing. Then we’re looking for the mix of people in the neighbourhood, whether there are like-minded brands and an interesting mix of leisure and retail types. Community is so important for us: although all of our locations are super central and in busy areas, we’re able to put our own stamp on them and invite people from all over the city together. Then, once we know we’re in the right community, the final thing we’re looking for is, of course, the space itself. We prefer large square or rectangular spaces because they give more flexibility to try out different displays and events, and have more impact than smaller rooms.’

We offer a premium product so there’s a sense of luxury to what we do, but we are also a young brand and we don’t want to do things in a formal way

Collaborative design

‘I've founded companies within fashion and design since I was 17, so I’m super aware of how different design decisions can totally change the look and feel of things. Designing a store is definitely a collaboration and I’d never be able to just hand things over entirely. Having said that, we’ve worked with Christian Halleröd on every store so far and it’s great to have a designer who really gets our vision – who knows what the essential elements are but also where we can play or evolve things a bit. We offer a premium product so there’s a sense of luxury to what we do, but we are also a young brand and we don’t want to do things in a formal way. I think the Stockholm store is a great example of how these two can be mixed: super-premium stone slabs are mounted on top of smashed glass podiums. It’s important to have these unexpected elements that another luxury brand may not think of, and Christian gets that.’

axelarigato.com

halleroed.com

This is a condensed version of an interview featured in our Nov – Dec 2019 issue, Frame 131. Interested to read on what Svärdh has to say about keeping things flexible and the future of the store? Buy your copy here.

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