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Monday, June 27, 2022

The new realm of retail by Sybarite

As Sybarite reveals its recent design of the Ferrari flagship store in Milan, Architecture magazine caught up with Co-Founders Simon Mitchell and Torquil McIntosh, to see how they’re tackling the shift in consumer habits when designing retail experiences.

Sybarite is the architectural and design studio based in west London that creates incredible experiential retail spaces for clients such as Marni, Joseph, Alberta Ferretti and the mega shopping destination SKP.

With the latest Ferrari store opening in Milan, a flagship that encompasses bold Italian architecture and Ferrari’s heritage, whilst simultaneously bringing visitors a slice of futurism.

Here, Simon Mitchell and Torquil McIntosh discuss the studio’s work within the shifting realm of retail.

How did you get into designing for retail?

As an architecture student I [Simon Mitchell] decided that I wanted to work for either Nigel Coates or Jan Kaplicky because they were the two architects, at that time, who were pushing the boundaries of retail design in London. An impressionable moment was standing outside of the Katherine Hamnett store on Sloane Street in the 90s and inquisitively peering through the window of fish tanks into the Nigel Coates designed shop. I had been a collector and breeder of rare and tropical fish since I was a boy and this appealed to me on a periphery level as well as on a deeper level with the anticipation I felt for stepping over the threshold to reveal what lay beneath. This sparked my interest and began my journey into retail design.

Torquil came to retail from another direction, but our meeting of minds moment was with Jan Kaplicky (of Future Systems) and the designing of Marni and Comme de Garcons. I would say that the Castigliones, Joseph Ettedgui and Rei Kawakubo had a lasting impression on both of us which lives on it our work today. We are aligned in our love of all things avant garde and futuristic and have purposefully channelled this in our retail design.

We have always been drawn to the pace and differing scale of retail design. Our ethos from the get-go has been to focus our process on working from the micro to the macro – this suits retail design from the very smallest project which may be a product, all the way up to a masterplan, which is about changing the notion and any perceived blueprint for luxury retail.

We champion highly collaborative and creative solutions in the same way that fashion labels must reinvent continuously. To that end, we have never been the go-to architects and designers for cookie cutter solutions. What matters is fusing the essence of the brand into the architectural language and design codes in a subtle, subliminal, timeless way that depends on the environment, culture, and locality – this is organic and ever evolving.

IRL retail experiences have been shifting for some time. As a designer, how do you tackle this behavioural shift with design solutions?

We have always honed and measure how we design physical spaces against what customer journey they deliver from an immersive and experiential perspective. It is a carefully considered process and an art to align fashion and form in a way that is completely seamless within the physical architecture and design of an environment and using it to activate a sense of transcendence.

The gap that is narrowing between the physical and digital is significant. The bricks and mortar store of the future must work harder to deliver inspiration and convert experiences to sales. Physical and digital must work symbiotically.

Physical stores are an important platform from well known brands as well as those who are trying to establish themselves – they can showcase the two at the same time and they can deliver a detailed narrative around them which can make or break collections.

Stores are a chance to engage and navigate – there is much to be said for escapism and dreaming which is what retail, at its core, is about: retail is theatre and its ever-changing set that brings newness. Our job as designers is to facilitate that process and understand our role within.

The behavioural shift means that the shopper is much more educated and has huge amount of information at their fingertips and one must anticipate that when they arrive at the store, they have a base of knowledge already banked which is gained from online research. This then means that the physical stores must deliver something extraordinary: the engagement, the brand mix, the buy and the environment. It is the sum of many parts that strategically work together.

At this current point in time there are limitations with e-commerce retailing in that it does not bring with it the three-dimensional element to shopping, where material and texture matter and enrich the luxury shopper’s experience. The physical store delivers instant gratification and can bring these subtleties to life. Physical luxury spaces are about brand and heritage and capturing and experiencing those stories concurrently. Each store has a perspective which is unique and which draws the customer in.

We look at the virtual world and relate it to our current world in the sense of creating unknown, otherworldly, barrierless shopping experiences in SKP-S Beijing and the soon to be opened SKP-S Xi’an. Here notable fashion brands exist in a laboratory like state that offers a very different viewpoint which aims to shatter any pre-existing parameters. For that, we must look to an architecture which is not traditional, for which there are very few references, and which can support and bring that vision to life.

Capturing digital stats and data from the shopper’s behaviour can help carve, pre-empt and predict the next generation customer experience. Our work for the last 13+ years in Asia, particularly partnering with SKP retail operators has been of paramount importance and has supported our ongoing quest to look at retail through an innovative eye. Asia has always been ahead of the curve and suits and aligns with our ambitions.

At the start of our careers, our friend and mentor Joseph Ettedgui who was a force to be reckoned with, and very much ahead of his time in his thinking and championing creativity continues to have a lasting impression on us.

Our work with Marni’s Castiglione family embraced a brave new vision which we created and drove to the nth degree whereby the architecture and form became the signature of Marni without even having to look at the brand name above the façade.

In our work with the upcoming SKP masterplan in Chengdu we are heavily involved in curating the art and enhancing and diversifying the story telling. This is something that we are engaged in from them most minute to the largest detail whether it be the wayfinding, sculptures, water features, towers, facades, to the landscaping.

Department store, designed by Sybarite
Department store, designed by Sybarite
How are you manipulating design to bring people back to IRL retail?

Collaboration is a key part of this, working with taste makers, innovators, engineers, craftsmen, artists, marketeers we come together for the next generation shopper. It is not about satisfying the customer’s desires today we need to work light years ahead with foresight. We have a strong visualisation team here at Sybarite who are relentlessly embracing content with moments in AR and VR and how these can translate and integrate into our retail. With our knowledge of retail design over the last 25+ years and having seen cycle after cycle we use this to power forward in this way and bridge the narrowing gap between physical and virtual and virtual in the physical space.

With the Ferrari store, you’ve combined old and new worlds through the classic Italian architecture and the heritage of the Ferrari house combined with some very futuristic ideas, how and why did you do this?

Our modus operandi is to approach heritage as well as the new with a fresh eye and to challenge and propose what the vision could be. Particularly with the new retail flagships which are the beacon for the diversification of Ferrari into lifestyle. This coincided with the launch of the Ready to Wear collection by Creative Director Rocco Iannone. The brief dictated that the design brings in a new demographic without alienating the old and loyal customer base and this was the road that we navigated with our design. It goes without saying that there would always be consideration of those immersive and experiential moments, ever so important with social media and marketing opportunities and creating the buzz and conversation online. Our idea was to use materials that are very much ‘Made in Italy’ to achieve depth and reference points and a lot of these are re-imagined from the factory to the shop floor. At the core, there is a sense of narrative which captures Ferrari but looks at it through a different lens. The materials and processes we are using are old and traditional, from sculpting, carving, moulding, stitching which relate to the cars themselves and how they are conceived and made. We re-frame these. Bringing to life in physical form what the essence of Ferrari essentially is: performance, speed, craftsmanship, heritage, and innovation meant gathering, recalibrating, and paring back. Each material has been used to symbolise these. It was less about literal branding and more about and environment and the moments within that which conjure and capture Ferrari from a different perspective but one that is recognisable.

Marni store, Sloane St, London. Designed by Sybarite. Photography courtesy of Richard Davies
Marni store, Sloane St, London. Designed by Sybarite. Photography
courtesy of Richard Davies
Tell us about the VR driving experience and how this has elevated the retail concept.

The personalisation of experience is key through VR, being able to tailor things to an individual is the way forward and the more realistic and closer this becomes the narrower the gap becomes.

With the virtual world, you can curate your experience. Being able to do this whilst in the physical store is next level as it is the culmination of two worlds: the best of both worlds as they collide.

Successful retail requires a layered experience which encourages immersion and depth of feel, emotion and understanding. Enhancing the customer experience has always been front and centre and it is what secured customer loyalty. A convenient and clear-cut journey is essential.

What do you think is needed to help sustain IRL retail and give it a new lease of life?

Upgrading the customer experience, merging online and offline, bringing new, exciting and entrepreneurial collaborations to the forefront.

Realising exclusive location -specific, personalised and bespoke experiences. Bringing art, fashion and culture together.

Using data to inform and predict the retail journey.

Exemplary service levels are the investment for customer loyalty.

A firm eye on sustainability and the associated values.

Constant evolution and re-evaluation.

Seeing luxury retail as a place where culture and commerce collide in a globalised sense.

Shattering the premise of boundaries in luxury retail.

Maximising a collaborative narrative for full retail immersion.

What do you see will be the future of retail in this respect?

A multifaceted and agile approach will keep relevance. The physical store is where the experience should crescendo.

www.sybarite.com

@sybaritearch.com

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