Sales pitch

The boutique is the playing field on which the customer meets the brand. How is it changing?

 A brand communicates in many different ways, but its major channel is the boutique. Which is where it gets down to the work of doing business. Walking into a boutique takes you into another world, one in which you find yourself fully immersed in the brand image. Once you're inside, the brand has a unique opportunity to talk to you with visual, audio and olfactory signals in a complete, multi-media experience.

LUXOS spoke to two architectural design studios to find out more about how a new boutique is created.

"How do you translate a brand concept into architecture? That's a million dollar question!" Fulvio Giraldi of studio GAA, based in Florence, has been working on new design and architecture for top fashion brands for over a decade; today the studio also has offices in Berlin and Los Angeles. "It's the most important part of the job. Usually the brief contains little information on brand concept and virtually nothing as regards architectural guidelines. Often it is up to the designer to express the brand, using atmosphere, materials, the psychological approach, all factors that can be very subjective, and in any case, a lifestyle brand is often rather eclectic and difficult to encapsulate in a brief. I often use natural materials such as timber, in combination with technological features. This generates a contrast between the toughness of nature and the cool, friendly face of technology."

And how will technology change the boutique? The store of the future could look very different. Giraldi says, "The store experience could incorporate elements of an on-line boutique. In the United States, there are scanning cabins that capture the forms of your body, so you can view yourself wearing the various colour options of a particular garment. This makes it possible for small boutiques to provide a complete service, even if stocks are limited, combining the pleasure of boutique shopping, in which you can see and touch the product, with the convenience of on-line shopping."

Andrea Burgio and Barbara Ballabio are the creative minds behind BBArchitetti, a studio based in Milan specializing in Retail & Store Concept for luxury brands including Ermenegildo Zegna, Valentino Fashion Group, Giorgio Armani and Salvatore Ferragamo. Andrea Burgio describes an example of how they develop their ideas. "In a design concept for Canali, the elements in the brief were attention to detail, hand-crafting, and Made in Italy. We decided to redevelop stylistic concepts with reference to Italian and specifically Milanese architecture of the 1930s and '50s; these motifs enabled us to formulate the lifestyle characteristics inherent in the brand. Of course, we have our own hallmarks as well. We like to take a motif, such as a geometrical shape, and express it in a variety of ways, generating patterns over extensive surfaces, for example, screen panels made from expanded metal, or interesting textures made by creating new composites such as plate glass with a central core of fabric." In the photo below, Barbara Ballabio and Andrea Burgio.

And what about the role of technology in the boutique of the future?
"There is less emphasis on technology in the store at the moment," says Barbara Ballabio. "When a brand wants a boutique, they invariably ask us to design something that looks like a lounge in a luxury Italian home!"
Does that mean that there is an identity between luxury and Italian style, at least amongst top brands?

"To a degree," says Andrea, "but it's not a generalized concept. Prada's approach, with its store designs commissioned from Rem Koolhaas, and Herzog & de Meuron, was more about contemporary, one-off designs. Ralph Lauren's boutiques are like stage sets, packed with objects and furniture evoking a reassuringly domestic vision of luxury."

So, more than technology, contemporary boutique design is more about personal service?

"One of the intrinsic features of luxury is being physically part of a certain environment, having access to the actual products, with people who can provide expert advice, and a whole set of extra services such as made-to-measure. It would be difficult to provide all this with e-commerce-type solutions," says Andrea.

So, just as books and magazines will stay with us alongside digital media, luxury boutiques will remain fundamental in retail, offering their unique combination of brand experience, service and personalization. After all, who can resist a spot of high-street shopping?

Giraldi Associates Architects
Via dei Serragli 9, 50124 Florence, tel. +39 055 219 132
Kurfürstendamm 16, D-10719 Berlin, tel. +49 152 5538 1331
1312 Larrabee St., West Hollywood, CA 90069 Los Angeles, tel. +1 323 8511 250

Piazza Archinto 9, 20159 Milan, tel. +39 02 6931 1561