Nick Leith-Smith: merging shopping experience and local culture for Manolo Blahnik

TOKYO – Having worked on more than 30 stores across the globe for Manolo Blahnik, Nick Leith-Smith may design eclectic individual interiors, but his creative process always starts the same way. ‘It begins with an exploration into different references characteristic to that location – be it architectural, craft or furniture,’ says the founder of Nick Leith-Smith Architecture + Design.

Throughout his long-standing relationship with the high-end footwear brand, Leith-Smith has designed stores in locations such as Dubai, London and Seoul, and more recently in Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and Hong Kong. Leith-Smith’s latest flagship project, which opened this month in the Japanese capital’s Ginza Six district, is the second in the city after the award-winning Matsuya Ginza store.

The 60-sq-m space merges art and architecture in a contemporary shopping experience that foregrounds the area’s distinct cultural context and identity. Traditional Japanese timber construction and joinery is referenced through a central timber installation made of crisscrossed folded wooden slats, and Leith-Smith alludes to gingko leaves and indigo plant dye through undulating curve patterns and deep blue walls for a unique retail experience tailored to the flagship’s location.

Manolo Blahnik Kuala Lumpur

To ground consumer experience in cultural context, Leith-Smith seeks inspiration from the materials and cultural references of the geographical locations he engages with. From these elements emerges a narrative that he translates into a visual dialogue, which in turn crystallizes the store’s concept. In the Manolo Blahnik Kuala Lumpur location for instance, brass details are embedded into the marble floors in a herringbone pattern reminiscent of palm leaves.

Manolo Blahnik Kuala Lumpur

In the boutique, which opened its doors in November 2016 in the heart of the effervescent Bukit Bintang, Leith-Smith refers to traditional Malaysian furniture-making and construction scaffolding by emphasizing bamboo as the store’s main motif, effectively uniting cultural and contemporary design. Playful round ottomans and stools upholstered with natural woven fabrics in tropical hues resonate with and enhance Manolo Blahnik’s well-known humorous style.

Manolo Blahnik Moscow

‘The shops become installations where we design everything, from the interior architecture, to the furniture and the bespoke display systems,’ says Leith-Smith. Through sophisticated monochromatic hues and a plethora of rich materials such as marble and deep pile rugs, the interiors of the label’s Moscow location unveiled in May 2016 reflect the eccentricity and artfulness of the shoes and stand out similarly.

Manolo Blahnik Hong Kong

Leith-Smith’s work on the brand’s Hong Kong flagship in January 2016 further communicates the embrace of singular consumer experiences and wide-ranging cultural contexts. Developing the label’s concept for its Elements store in Kowloon, Leith-Smith references traditional Chinese weaving and handicrafts through a timber and bronze woven system, which incorporates display area, screening and shop front. The flagship’s materials include darker stone and brass for a more luxurious feel, while the neutral colours of the weave on the more intimate seating spaces at the back of the store are contrasted with bright pink, green and blue ottomans.

nickleithsmith.com

Billboard: Mack Brooks Exhibitions (Inprint)
Billboard: Mack Brooks Exhibitions (Inprint)

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