Finding wonderland

A recent trip to Europe took me to some historic shopping precincts, where even the stewards are bringing in inspiring and artful new designs and concepts. Here are a few of the most striking:

The decompression zone: In retail design we often talk about this spot, that first part of the retail journey when you leave the real world behind and enter the parallel universe that has been created for you. You need some transition space to do this. The ultimate example is the new Galeries Lafayette in Paris, the passage from the busy Champs-Élysées to the store itself. It’s a huge statement, with floor, walls and ceiling in white LED, and a worthy entrance for the retail wonderland inside.

Innovation through combination: Right next door to Galeries Lafayette is a beautifully combined L’Occitane and Pierre Hermé store. Desserts and skincare products might seem to be an unlikely mix, but that doesn’t deter the crowds coming in from the Champs-Élysées. Pastry chef and chocolatier Pierre Hermé, with his heavily chocolate-based menu and selection of specialty macarons, has added the sense of taste to the already multi-sensual environment of L’Occitane. 

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Meanwhile, on London’s Regent Street, the skincare brand has put together a colourful flagship that’s a festival for the senses in a different way. The whole store appears to be built from L’Occitane’s ingredients. Columns are formed from wild flowers and lavender – an opening connecting the two levels is a riot of floral colour. And again there’s the macaron bar. 

Le hardware revisited: The world’s coolest hardware store has to be the basement of department store BHV in Paris, where there’s lots of colour, creativity and humour. Who would have thought that sponges and brushes would be objects of desire? It even seems to have its own Metro station.

Hands in the sink: An experienced colleague told me that to sell skincare products, you have to get your customers’ hands in the sink. That stuck with me as I was benchmarking the category in London. The best example I saw was the centrepiece of the L’Occitane store in Regent Street, which looks like part of a Provence village square. 

Extra-sensory experience: Smell is known to be our most evocative sense. Even the slightest trace of an aroma can transport us through time and space. But perfumer Miller Harris has upped the ante and combined it with sound. In these domes, reminiscent of music listening stations, a perfume is combined with an associated sound effect (such as wildflowers and birdsong) to build a sensory experience. 

The chancellor goes shopping: You might not think of Louis Vuitton as a disruptor, but the brand certainly knows a thing or two about challenging your perception. Beside the luxury brand’s collection at Selfridges in London is an oversized neon statue of model Lucas Chancellor promoting designer Virgil Abloh’s collection. It’s causing a lot of double takes – as is the collection.

Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design, which specialises in the design of retail and hospitality environments. Contact:


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