Perhaps more than any other area of architecture, designing boutiques demands reconciling two potentially conflicting needs: quality finishes and tight construction times. Compromise isn’t possible on either, especially in luxury retail. On top of that, retail spaces must be designed to meet customer needs in terms of the company’s marketing strategies. And there’s one more element – one that the pandemic has probably emphasized more than most: stores need to tell the story and showcase the values of the brand, both engaging customers and establishing a shared relationship of trust with them. Shops need to offer an experience in which interior design is much more than a simple background and which, in the future, will be increasingly based on transparency and authenticity.
Is fashion an essential product? Judging by the Covid restrictions, apparently not. Retail was one of the sectors hardest hit by the measures to contain the virus. According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, in 2020 in-store sales in Italy fell by 5.4%, against an uptick in e-commerce of 34.6%. Apart from the fact that stores spent several months with their shutters down, websites are, for better or for worse, much less likely to spread the virus than boutiques. The non-food sector in general was particularly hard hit in 2020. But as early as February this year, there were signs of a recovery, testifying to people’s desire – actually, their need – to return to normal. Shopping plays an important role in all this. It’s an activity in which the boundaries between necessity and pleasure aren’t clear, which was precisely why it was so sorely missed.
While back in spring, we were impatiently wondering when stores would reopen, today we’re wondering what the future of the sector will be in the post-pandemic world. Simona Franci, design director of the Fortebis Group, has written an essay on this issue in which she identifies three actions that will trigger what she terms a retail revolution. First of all, it will be necessary to rethink the concept of store image, creating an immersive and integrated experience for every brand to make it interesting and innovative. As part of this change, and beginning with luxury boutiques, architecture will be one of the tools needed to create multi-sensory, sustainable spaces. The second action highlighted by Franci is the development of virtual reality as an extension of the bricks-and-mortar boutique, thereby integrating online and offline sales. This is a tool with numerous advantages for brands, including stronger customer engagement and the ability to instantly update collections. The third and final action concerns communication strategies. From the perspective of interior design, it will be necessary to redesign sales areas to make them more lively and flexible, transforming them into laboratories, where customers can experiment with different products and experience the story of the brand.
Professionals involved in the design of stores, showrooms, and retail and wholesale outlets are eligible to enter the Retail category of The Plan Award. This annual award, open to both completed and future projects, was established to promote both the awareness and quality of the work of designers, academics, and students in the fields of architecture, design, and urban planning, and to broaden the discussion of topical issues affecting the sector. The Plan Award 2021 is divided into different categories, for each of which the Jury will decide one winner and, if appropriate, honorable mentions. The registration deadline is 31 May.
We’ve selected a few projects from 2020’s The Plan Award that reflect the trends currently at work in retail design.
The new Wakeup Cosmetics store in Via Torino, Milan, offers customers an experience that constantly reasserts their connection to the brand – a form of immersive brand affirmation in which they discover the product range. Wakeup Cosmetics is an Italian brand of makeup, skincare, and accessories. Its image is all about encouraging people to express themselves naturally, and to discover and enhance their own vitality and beauty.
This is strongly reflected in the store design by Lombardini22, which welcomes customers into an immersive, stylized space composed of curving, harmonious shapes. The brand’s image was created by FUD (a division of the studio specializing in physical branding and communication design), using concentric circles and a pink-gold palette, with colors ranging from iridescent light pinks to vibrant blues.
The new Y multi-brand menswear store in Piazza San Carlo, downtown Turin, occupies three floors, with each area different from the next. The store, designed by Fabio Fantolino, immerses customers in a retro atmosphere created through the choices of finishes and materials, including walnut paneling, carpeting, tiles, and colored glass, but reinterpreted in a contemporary vein through the addition of oblique shapes and lines.
The entire boutique is permeated by an elegant style and high attention to detail. The upper level has been conceived as an exclusive lounge, where tailors can devote special attention to customers in the market for a tailor-made suit.
In their design of the Valexdra boutique in Chengdu, in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, Lyndon Neri & Rossana Hu began with the idea of a solid volume suspended above the ground. The concept is underscored in the completed project by lighting positioned below the structure, while long and narrow, horizontal and vertical, display windows along the façade offer fleeting glimpses of the interior spaces.
From the entrance, customers are aware of the circular shape of the main space, defined by the custom-built wooden bookcases used to display products. In the middle of the space is a stone table and a conical light well, which brings to mind the Oculus of the Pantheon.
The architects had the image of a hill in mind when they designed the Hills Shopping Mall in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The multiform design of the complex combines with a terraced façade that, as it steps back from street level, incorporates shops, whose display windows are lined up along each terrace. The project, the work of Wall Corporation, an architecture practice founded by Selim Senin, draws its inspiration from the natural landscape of this African nation. This can also be seen in the tall, thin, and tree-like columns that support the overhanging canopy roof, which provides shade for shoppers.
If you’ve designed a retail property – built after January 1, 2018 or yet to be completed – you have until May 31 to register for the Retail category of The Plan Award 2021. Enter your project via the registration page.
All other credits relating to photos and render refer to individual articles.