Explorer – New York City

Bucking the trend

It’s a trend in retail that has been taking shape for a while, but now it seems that the ‘death of minimalism’ is becoming a seriously big thing. And nowhere is this more evident than, appropriately, in the Big Apple.

As is so often the case, trends are seen here before anywhere else, and this one is no exception. Right now in New York City (rarely noted for doing anything that’s pared down), retail design and visual merchandising is adopting a much more theatrical approach.

In the run up to the 2000s, high end retailers moved in favour of a very stark instore aesthetic – deliberately very bare, plain and simplistic in an almost monastic sense. Mainstream high street retailers eventually adopted the trend too, stripping back their interiors but, as a result, removing many important brand personality traits too.

More recently, the likes of Gucci, YSL, Dior, Calvin Klein, have recruited a flurry of young designers, each seeking to establish their own narrative by trail blazing a different kind of aesthetic – one that rejects minimalism in favour of more much more pronounced and decorative look and feel. Bold and in your face, they are highly individualised to the brand, embracing rich patterns and defiantly carrying a love it or hate it aesthetic. Even if you’re not a fan of the result, its ability to clearly differentiate one brand from another cannot be argued.

Breaking convention and breaking the rules

Perhaps the clearest example of this trend is the Gucci flagship store in SoHo. Previously known for following narrow and minimalist aesthetic, the brand now boasts an edgier feel and much more disruptive design influence, breaking convention and breaking the rules. And it appears to be working. Gucci has completely transformed and revolutionised its fortunes in the last few years.

Its SoHo store is all about making a bold impact and edgy statement and not just about selling products. It’s about creating a brand space and saying, with great confidence, “We have arrived. We are here. And we are dramatic”. Though still very exclusive in look, their SoHo store is all about mixing pattern, print, textures, designs, detailing, cut and even gender. The result? Success.

Unlike many designer brands that end up excluding the general public, Gucci has always been accessible. This has only been strengthened, with a store that is fun and highly playful. Leading in with an old school theatrical cinema display that doubles as the window display, shoppers are encouraged to sit on cinema seats alongside mannequins dressed head to toe in Gucci to become part of a ‘living’ display. It’s clear they have invested a lot in VM theatre instore.

So when will we start to see this trend filtering down to mainstream retailers? We will see more becoming disruptive and more levels of decoration and differentiation in how they present their concepts, Ted Baker being a great example.

For most big chain retailers like Next, Oasis and Gap, wanting to buy into this latest trend will be one thing. Applying it will be quite another. Gucci has a limited number of stores internationally, and they can spend a lot of money to bring in a big team to pull off these kinds of store executions and ensure consistency across the brand. Implementing such schemes becomes a much bigger and more difficult job to achieve in the world of mass retail. From the physical cost, to the huge internal change that is often required to deliver, and deliver it well.

Make no mistake: I’m one of its biggest fans of this latest trend. As well as delivering clear brand differentiation, it creates the kind of captivating retail experience that makes you want to spend time instore. Countless retailers are crying out for ways to make shoppers do that right now. Sadly, without the right level of external support and guidance to take the essence of the trend and apply it well, at scale, most mainstream retailers – with stores in cities and countries all over the world – have a lot of work to do before they will be burying minimalism, and celebrating the arrival of this more inspiring trend in their stores.