As the retail climate transitions, changes and re-emerges we will see brick and mortar retail scale back and transition to experiential concept focused on brand building. Brick and mortar retail provides a platform to communicate the visceral power of a brand while also generating sales revenue, developing client relationships and gathering press attention in one fell swoop. This article will focus on representing a single brand within a luxury retail pop up consortium of brand partnerships. The pop up retail dynamic ended up being a powerful cross marketing and event location at 150 Wooster Street in Soho New York.
As we look at the future of brick and mortar retail we recognize that e-commerce has freed us from the burden of excess inventory and back stock and we can now focus entirely on communicating a brand story through representation. The retail concept for the Soho Collective began by looking at the the business headquarters for the brand's design, manufacturing and sales, and isolating the brand's visual language which included sculptural objects, books and art. We decided to make a salon wall presentation, a display technique developed in the 18th Century to introduce new painters to the Paris public, to create a unique visual dialogue in the public space.
We introduced the idea Rock Paper Photo and Capital Arts - who have an extensive photo archive of 20th century artists, musicians, actors and actresses - and asked them to be brand partners on the project. With access to extensive archives we were faced with the new challenge of curating 50 images from thousands of incredible photographs. As I was looking at Hollywood icons like Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe I was grabbed the photos that captured intimate moments with these 20th Century icons. It was the celebrity in natural gesture - at home reading in bed or a an in-between moment during an official photo shoot - that captured personal reflection and spoke to my understanding about where style originates. The resulting salon wall was a radically diverse concept of chic spanning a century of icons in 40 portraits.
David Bowie photographed by Andrew Kent
Rather than select pieces that showed these icons as we know them – performing, modeling, acting – we searched for photos that captured them as themselves. An intimate portrait of David Bowie shows him not as the costumed glam-rocker seen on stage or posturing about town but as a man undressed, in bed reading. And yet there’s something still so impossibly magnetic about Bowie – as the viewer, we’re still drawn in by his certain je ne sais quoi. Ultimately, it’s not the make up and costumes that make the man, it’s the man himself. Similarly, we chose icons and images that shaped who we are - from Elizabeth Taylor who twirls a lasso in Marfa and brings to my mind an adventurous Texas childhood, to Debbie Harry who blows a kiss with all the grit and glamour of New York, the city we love and call home.
Jayne Mansfield photographed by Frank Worth
How could we not swoon over the portrait of Jayne Mansfield delicately perched on gorgeous leather and metal stools in a perfect mid-century modern room next to a Picasso. Jayne herself stuns, but the entire environment – the art, architecture, furniture and pose – is the draw, rather the whole setting, a cumulative definition. Julie Newmar as Catwoman represents one of the few commercial photographs on the wall whose original purpose was for promotion of the 1960's Batman television series. Of course, there's no one more fierce than a curvy 60's Catwoman chatting on her Batphone. But what makes the image so compelling is the insane baroque installation behind her. She stands in a sleek black sequin jumpsuit against a formal interior plastered in red velvet and gold leaf, it calls to mind the stately appointed interiors of aristocrac portraits from centuries past, and forms a fascinating juxtaposition of modernity and tradition, something that's always fascinated us.
Julie Newmar photographed on set as Catwoman
We’ve always found that style and lifestyle are very much inseparable – that it’s not just about our clothing; it’s about the lives we lead. It’s performative and it's an action. And so style is less of a singular image but a more of a holistic picture – something like a salon wall. For many of these icons, so much of their chicness came from their art, their work. But in a lot of ways, life is a sort of creative act for all of us. Our style comes from our great works, but also from quiet moments - when we wake up in the morning or reading in bed at night, those moments where we just are without artifice.
As we develop retail concepts, at the moment when online shopping is redefining the significance of walking into a brick and mortar store, we seek to create a space that represents brands not just through their product but also through the ways they come to shape our lives. As the retail landscape evolves, and the genius of e-commerce is the ease with which it facilitates the quotidian, walking into brick and mortar retail will become more and more a search for the unique and visceral experience.