With retail mostly down in the doldrums and shopping (if any) being done mostly online, opening a physical store, especially one that specialises in beauty, certainly seems to go against the grain. However, for Jessica Richards, the founder of the cult beauty boutique Shen Beauty, which has been a pioneering force for the last ten years, a global pandemic wasn’t going to keep her plans for reinventing the store down.

Located in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighbourhood, Shen Beauty has long been a local staple. It was also one of the earliest destinations to stock an expertly curated selection of beauty products. After a decade in business at her ultimately overcrowded space, Richards decided to move up the street to Cobble Hill, where the new and expanded store would allow all the goodness of Shen Beauty to breathe. While the timing of things certainly threw some unexpected obstacles her way, Richards and the creative studio Mythology, who she enlisted to design the space, persevered, while making the necessary changes to ensure the boutique would be relevant in a post-pandemic time.

At 1,550 sq ft, Mythology has divided the new Shen Beauty store into three distinct components. The left side of the boutique is laid out by brand, with products displayed in clearly defined shelves to facilitate quick and independent browsing, while the right side of the space has been designed to suit more service-driven areas, like product testing, consultations and quick beauty fixes like brow threading and grooming. Along the space’s central axis, freestanding islands serve as showcases for Richards to share new discoveries.
 
In order to create a unified environment, while still housing a plethora of different products that vary both in size and colour, the Mythology team constructed the store’s interior mostly out of one material – plywood.
 
‘The challenge as a designer is how to create a space that feels holistic, so we used plywood, which we don’t typically think of in the context of beauty, and we used it in all its different facets,’ recounts Mythology’s partner and director of retail, Ted Galperin. ‘We used the face of it on the ceiling, on some of the cabinetry and the walls. We made our own end grain flooring. We made custom floor fixtures and retail displays – everything is our own doing.’

He adds, ‘[The store] is in a really prime location, with way better foot traffic, so we canted all the shelves towards the window so that [passers-by] can kind of be invited in. For Covid, we made [the shelves] six and a half feet wide, so that way, one person per bay is a really easy gauge of not being too close.’
 
Another adjustment that Richards and Mythology made to the store’s design was to install a sink in the space – a relatively easy feat given that it had formerly housed a restaurant. ‘Luckily, we were at just the right time where we could have it put in,’ shares Galperin. And because the ceiling had not been completed either, the HVAC system could be upgraded to one that facilitates sanitary air exchange and also comes with a temperature gauge.  ‘We really approached things by thinking about what would we need to feel secure if we were going to go into a store again,’ he says.

To tackle the issue of how customers could test make-up products hygienically and safely —undoubtedly the most cherished part about visiting a beauty boutique — Richards came up with the idea of a painter’s palette that subtly references the abstract portraits that the artist, Petra Börner, painted site-specifically onto the walls of the store. 
 
‘Make-up artists are artists as well, so this was [a way of] taking it back to the roots,’ Richard explains. ‘A sales associate will help customers and use a palette knife to slice off a little bit of each make-up or skincare product [and] you can blend it if you want, which is what most people do. It was a nice way to bring an added playful element to the process while still keeping it clean. Beauty is sensorial at its core, so not being able to test products in a beauty store really defeats the point.’

Completed by Thonet stools, lighting sconces by Lindsey Adelman and three treatment rooms, along with a dedicated waiting area, where the store’s cherished menu of beauty services, including facials, microblading, brows, waxing and lashes can be enjoyed with the assurance that health and safety protocols are front of mind, Shen Beauty proves that even at ten years old, it is still leading the pack. §