Are you there retail? It’s me, Margaret.
I have wanted to write something about retail for a few months now, but the thoughts wouldn’t form and the ideas didn’t gel so I have been letting it simmer on another burner. But today I read a little article about the (defunct) Boston store Design Research and it came together for me.
In the summer while I was in Europe I found very few retail stores that spoke to the place that they operated in. If you were looking for an Isabel Marant dress, J Brand jeans, See by Chloe or Phillip Lim you were in luck because every city has a tasteful boutique outfitted with white walls and a chandelier that carries those lines. But now that we all travel and we all have access to the same things, what makes us identify a store with its location? Or more specifically, what makes a store in Barcelona a Barcelona store?
Every city has heritage stores that are delightful (Barcelona has espadrilles makers La Manual Alpargatera, I’m not sure what Vancouver has that could compare but I am open to suggestions), but what about the next generation of retail? What is an example of a new store that is so intrinsically linked with a city’s culture? I know that stores do not exist just for tourists but what does it say about a city when there is no new development of a retail culture that is unique and self-supporting?
So, back to Design Research. This is a store that speaks to me in the way it approached design holistically (clothing/furniture/house wares) and with humour. Too often I find retail stores are either too generic or so rarefied they forget that design can be an experience shared by all. And you don’t have to carry only local products to be a local store that could not exist anywhere else in the world. You can offer a lot to people in your city that is useful, well made and original and do it in a way that captures the imagination of visitors as well. Design Research seems like a very optimistic American store where groovy families could go buy new cutlery and Mom could get a Marimekko dress. Could that happen now? Would people find it Utopian and flaky? Too European perhaps? Or just too middle class?
Another store that I think achieves a level of retail greatness that is unique to it’s location is Vinçon in Barcelona (below, some of their shopping bags throughout the years).