9 high-concept shops around the globe worth travelling for
With online shopping increasingly the norm, bricks and mortar stores need to deliver more than just the goods. They must be experiential, beautifully designed ‘mastershops’, enticing visitors off their apps and through their doors. Enter the Instagrammable concept store: minimalist marvels in German squares, architecturally impressive fashion boutiques in Los Angeles, welcoming apartments on the banks of Copenhagen’s canals. Here are our favourite high concept retail spaces, from New York to Yangzhou...
Bonds Hackney, London
A former carpentry-workroom in east London has been transformed into a rustic concept boutique, that beautifully dodges the all-too-common trope of shabby chic. Home to Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin, Bonds Hackney was born out of the rapid demand for the duo’s scent-based candle brand, Earl of East London. The space has been respectfully fitted to make the most of bare bones of the building, flaunting exposed red brick walls and an aged wooden floor. Flexibility was key – the shop and adjoining studio are now used to house everything from candle making workshops to life-drawing classes. Bonds’ concept sore is proof that – in the right space – a specialist candle connoisseur can become a fully-formed lifestyle brand.
5A Gransden Avenue, London E8 3QA
The Webster, New York City
While many Americans typically head south for their winter sojourns, one Floridian ventured the other way. In November, The Webster – Laure Heriard Dubreuil’s well-heeled Miami fashion boutique – found itself a new 12,000 sq ft outpost in the heart of New York City. Situated within a cast-iron building dating back to 1878 that Heriard Dubreuil spent the last four years renovating, The Webster’s New York store is armed with an eclectic collection of designer fashion, and a distinctly Miami mix of art and design. Art deco-inspired terrazzo flooring echoes that of the original South Beach boutique, and vintage wallpapers from the 1920s and 30s line the elegant, apartment-like space. Admittedly, this is not your everyday homestead. In addition to Vladimir Kagan couches, and bright blue Pierre Paulin chairs originally designed for the Concorde lounge, the store is also home to several noteworthy artworks, including a candy-coloured wardrobe and lighting piece from Gaetano Pesce.
2508, 29 Greene St, New York, NY 10013, United States. Photography: Andrew Rowat
The writing’s on the walls, ceiling and floors of a Yangzhou bookshop, where an optical illusion turns a 1000 sq m rectangular room into a cylindrical tunnel. Created by Shanghai-based studio XL-Muse for book retailers Zhongshuge, a black mirrored floor paired with two walls of arched shelving helps to create a seemingly never-ending funnel of books. The design is inspired by the rich heritage of Yangzhou, said to be a historical gathering place for the literati. Lead designer Li Xiang took inspiration from a verse in the classic Chinese romance novel A Dream of Red Mansions, by Cao Xueqin, which is thought to refer to the area in which the shop now stands. (‘Spring flower and autumn moon, green hills and clear water; 24 bridges, relics of the Six Dynasties,’ it reads.) The arched shelving represents the ‘24 bridges’ in Xueqin’s verse, and a swerving line in the ceiling represents the ‘clear water’ or river. Visitors are supposed to flow along it, deeper into the bookshop and, says Xiang, ‘into the vast ocean of knowledge’.
The Apartment, Copenhagen
Knock on a great, arched wooden door at the edge of one of Copenhagen’s many canals, weave through a blossom-scented, courtyard and head up a thin winding staircase. Entering The Apartment feels like going home, that is, if your home is filled with Kerstin Hörlin Holmquist armchairs pushed up against wall hangings by Barbro Nilsson for Märta Måås-Fjetterström. The space is curated with rare zest and ambition, with a focus on local designers and artists. Of particular note is the rotating exhibitions programme, which spotlights under-appreciated Danish talent. If you're really lucky, local chef Frederik Bille-Brahe (of Noma fame) might be hanging out, ready to rustle you up a snack, as he was when we popped in during Copenhagen Fashion Week.
Overgaden Neden Vandet 33, 1414 Copenhagen, Denmark
Browns East, London
In May 2015, when online fashion retail platform Farfetch acquired Browns – the cult boutique on London’s South Molton Street – it laid out some ambitious plans for the 47-year-old retailer. The Farfetch vision included creating ‘the retail experience of the future’ that it promised would be a ‘pioneering mix of technology and in-store experience’. Two years later, the first major step to build an omnichannel retail operation, named Store of the Future, has been taken in the form of Browns East – a two-storey concept store housed in a former print factory in London’s Shoreditch. A highlight of the space is the (buzzword alert) immersive experience room, and the gallery of evolving and affordable artwork (pictured).
Browns East, 21 Club Row, London, E2 7EY
The news of stalwart Parisien retail destination Colette closing in December 2017 sent ripples of fear and disappointment waving far beyond the fashion industry. There’s hope, however. The demise of the cult department store has coincided with an upswing in popularity for the indie boutique. That’s why Sébastien Chapelle, head of the watches and tech department at Colette for 14 years, decided to open a new, smaller-scale Paris boutique, with the same flavour as Colette, but a more concise brief. Nous is located a stones throw from Colette’s former location. While Colette had a major focus on women’s fashion, Nous takes a more menswear, lifestyle-first approach and carries almost everything, think sunglasses, tech, books, streetwear – and even skateboard decks.
48 Rue Cambon, 75001 Paris, France
Designed by longtime collaborator Snøhetta, Aesop’s Düsseldorf store is one of the design-centric brand’s most conceptual. Created to feel like an implicit extension of the plaza outside, a monolithic concrete sink, reminiscent of Düsseldorf’s local fountains, has been centrally located in order for customers to test products, amplifying the blur between outside and in (echoed again in the ‘all natural’ Aesop tagline). A minimal marvel, its intended to feel like a spa, with low-key down-lighting and a refreshing ice-toned colour palate throughout.
12 Dusseldorf, Kasernenstraße 10, 40213 Düsseldorf, Germany
Casa Cavia, Buenos Aires
Since it opened in 2014 in a leafy Buenos Aires neighbourhood, Casa Cavia has carved out quite a name for itself, drawing an appreciative crowd to its high-ceilinged warren of rooms that are variously staged as restaurant, publishing house, bookstore, florist and perfumery. In 2017, perhaps as a recognition of the economic realities of running a truly conceptual space, owner Guadalupe García Mosqueda has upped the food and beverage offerings. Now, thanks to Kallos Turin Architects, the F&B spaces including a larger, bright kitchen, and a courtyard bar framed by the existing square pool, an emerald green living wall (pictured).
Casa Cavia 2985, Palermo Chico, Buenos Aires
Gentle Monster, Los Angeles
Cult Korean eyewear Gentle Monster opened its second US flagship in Los Angeles last year. The 5,000 sq ft store ‘leads visitors on a journey through the stages of harvest’ by way of moving installations, surreal sculptures (pictured) and handcrafted objects. There’s a gently undulating ‘rice field’ comprising 2,000 metallic rods, while rugs by Korean knitting designer Misu A Barbe bring a softness to the polished space. Eyewear is displayed on marble and metal shelving which take their cues from the blades of crop tractors.
Gentle Monster, 816 S Broadway, Los Angeles CA 90014