Brands are becoming culture coders - Feature for Frame

  • Stefanie Dorfer
  • Duong Bach
Cultural Exchange: Brands Programing Culture Through Dexterous Store Design
From basketball courts to performance stages, retail brands are challenging traditional concepts of store design and functionality, exploring dexterous blueprints that foster a sense of culture and community among consumers.
Recognising the value in offering services or experiences that consumers might traditionally have sourced elsewhere, these spaces offer critical added value and beyond-commercial engagement.
In 2017, British department store Selfridges opened ‘Ultralounge’, a temporary state-of-the-art visual content studio and live music venue in its London Oxford Street location. Hosting performances by established and emerging artists, twenty per cent of ticket profits were given to the Music Venues Trust to help its work in supporting grassroots music venues. The 360-degree stage featured large screens on which artists could project videos, creating a highly atmospheric and immersive space. Real-time edited song recordings were also broadcasted live on Selfridges’ website. Forty per cent of music venues in London have closed in the last ten years, suggesting huge mileage for retail brands to capitalise on the gaps left by under-funded public venues.
Leveraging its counterculture brand image, British footwear brand Dr. Martens’ Camden flagship in London holds an experiential space called ‘DM’s Boot Room’. Featuring a permanent stage and backline, the retailer offers customers a full programme of music activation throughout the year. The space showcases Dr Marten’s authentic connection to music and youth-subculture from the 1960s to present day through one-off and never-before-seen brand items and music memorabilia, to truly solidify a sense of culture and community.
Capitalising on the service-led era into which retail is moving, smart brands are creating imaginative temples to complement their brand and product offering. Showing its magnanimous side, Nike’s new NYC office headquarters house a 4,000 sq ft basketball court capable of seating 400 spectators. It’s free to use for Nike employees, brand ambassadors, local leagues and the high-school teams Nike mentors, with kit and advice provided by basketball stars. The headquarters also feature a marketplace showroom, wellness rooms and fitness studio. To further nurture a sense of community, the space reportedly draws design inspiration from New York City, including landmarks like The Highline – a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail. Wood, glass and white, orange and black colourways feature throughout.
Taking an equally holistic approach to sport, Reebok has opened a tiered-access space in Paris, designed to serve as a culturally astute sanctuary to active lifestyles. Dubbed La Salle de Sport, the 1,700 sq m destination taps into the entire healthy living lifestyle offering a gym, shop, event hub and culture/relaxation area. Tailored to its locale – Pinacothèque, a former art history museum in one of Paris’s liveliest shopping and dining areas – the space has also conceived to link sporting performance with Parisian art and culture. The space is home to product launches and trials, photoshoots and art installations, as well as a Social Club, inviting visitors to relax, socialise, and meet Reebok's brand ambassadors.
Cultural connections are becoming increasingly important for luxury brands, who can no longer rely on the former weight of heritage or even traditional craftsmanship. Brazilian footwear label Melissa, famous for its sculptural plastic shoes, has tapped into the long-standing relationship between fashion and art. Part boutique, part art gallery, its NYC flagship hosts a regular rotation of multimedia art exhibitions that build on the brand’s penchant for high-profile product collaborations. Designed by Brazilian architect Muti Randolph, the space opts for strict geometric lines and angles that visually distort the parameters of the store, offering a futuristic and otherworldly backdrop for the product on show. Multi-purpose, modular, spaces that facilitate flexible ‘programming’ of a store’s purpose offer brands the chance to create a retail experience that is both truly unique and enduringly relevant.

Words by Stefanie Dorfer, assistant editor – retail at innovation research and trends company, Stylus


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