Branding by Design
The Big Brother-esque profiling database has become an accepted trope in our day-to-day lives; a presumed necessary evil that we put up with in exchange for cumulative accessibility and personalization in, well, everything.
When Anohni recently sang: “Watch me in my hotel room/Watch my outline as I move from city to city/Watch me watching pornography/Watch me talking to my friends and my family”, one gets the sense that she meant for us to be shocked. However, one mostly just wondered if she was the only person left who hadn’t gaffer taped her webcam.
And, yet, as putatively insidious as the NSA and Facebook’s data mining are, it’s not clear that they’ve trumped the efforts of the marketing department at LVMH.
Everything is now targeted. Scored. Focused. Demoed. More creativity goes into the marketing of presentation of things than into the things themselves. A perfect example of this is the Nike I-D program, where some Freudian-cum-Pavlovian Beaverton hipster tricked people into paying twice as much while designing the shoes, themselves.
But as much as we presume that this is a largely digital perspective, it becomes a much more interesting investigation when you talk about experiential retail.
Sure, retail outlets have been presenting a lifestyle vision through their collective design since Harry Gordon Selfridge crossed the pond, but we’ve come a long long way from the ‘make it fancy then charge a lot’ modus operandi that upscale shopping emporiums have been coasting along on for the better part of a century.
Concept boutiques such as Colette and Dover Street Market have engendered cultish followings that put the Future Hive to shame while window treatment designers have become household (or, at least, lofthold) names, and aroma marketing consultancy firms not only exist, but boast clients ranging from Starwood hotels to Neiman Marcus.
A well-designed shop does more than represent a lifestyle or aesthetic. Recently, Oki Sato of multi-disciplinary (and multi-award winning) Japanese design firm Nendo was asked what makes a store successful, and he very matter-of-factly suggested that, “if someone buys a product that he or she had not expected to buy, then the store is successful.”
This can be represented in a host of different ways. Supreme’s LA boutique has a full-sized skate bowl inside, perfectly encapsulating their no f**ks given vibes in a ‘Deathbowl to Melrose’ fever dream. OVO’s Toronto shop is intentionally designed to look like a pop-up, as though it may be gone any second. It’s not clear that it turns the 6ix upside down, but it’s a safe bet that it sells a ton of t-shirts (and, really, who wants to live in the 9ine anyways?)
On the other end of the spectrum, Byron and Dexter Peart perfectly sum up the old world, new world luxe of their line WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie with their Want Apothecaries in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Heaps of modular steel hanging apparatus, blonde woods herringboned and scores of marble provide the desired effect. But so, too, does the perfuming by Byredo, and the pointillist intrigue of the Aesop counters.
Canada’s closest approximation to the aesthetic (and conceptual) mini-maximalism of DSM or 10 Corso Como is Vancouver’s Secret Location (particularly now that Montreal’s impeccably constructed Quai 417 is no more.) Like the bastard child of The Broken Arm and Vincent Van Duysen, Secret Location is somehow simultaneously anachronistic and avant-garde. The very definition of aspirational living; all ‘have black card will hipster’. And that black card is paramount. Last we checked an Olympia le Tan ‘Hello Kitty Time Schedule Bag (read: Hello Kitty lunch box) ran nearly $3000.
There’s no doubt that Canada has a plethora or well (and carefully) designed retail options. Litchfield, Roden Gray, Blue Button, and so on. But we’re also in the unique place of being able to rationally see this argument from both sides, as the level of marketing that has thus far befallen us is relatively tame.
But, make no mistake, it’s in the post. And, for now, keep an eye on that webcam.