Art experiences in retail: the shift from concept to spectacle store

2nd December 2019

A couple of weeks ago we went to check out the Antony Gormley Exhibition at the Royal Academy. It really was an incredible show as you can see from these pictures.

Antony Gormley Exhibition at the Royal Academy

The thing we loved best was how the sculptures immersed us into the environment, creating talking points and experiences within the space. It made us think about the crossover between space, sculpture and art as a way to create immersive experiences in retail, turning stores into memorable destinations.

The Art of Retail Experience

We’ve noticed a lot of artistic influences – both from artists and recent exhibitions – permeating retail design this year. There is also a lot more original artwork being featured in stores – like the Louis Vuitton Flagship we visited last month – part of a burgeoning trend for creating immersive shopping experiences with art that Elle magazine refers to as the ‘Spectacle Store:’

“[They] offer experiences that can’t be replicated online. Their stores have become shopping spaces-cum-galleries, as they bet on Instagrammable experiences as their USP. Call it ‘The Spectacle Store,’ if you like – the concept store’s luxury upgrade…. brands want you to come for the jumbo-stitch panel art, and stay for the rivet-punched boots – both of which you’ll find at Louis Vuitton’s New Bond Street flagship.”

The Louis Vuitton flagship that reopened on London’s New Bond Street last month featured work from dozens of artists including Jim Lambie and Tracey Emin. The pieces in the store were very similar to works by these artists that featured in the George Michael Collection at Christies earlier this year and we can’t help thinking that the show – a selection of the late singer’s art collection which was being sold for charity – may have had an influence on Vuitton’s design, with George’s passion for the YBA (Young British Artist) movement reviving interest in some of the artists featured. Amongst the GM collection were a tape floor by Lambie and neon signs by Emin and very similar pieces are now featured at the new Vuitton store.

The use of art in retail isn’t a new idea for Vuitton. They recently opened similar art-filled flagships in Seoul and Sydney and their long history of collaborating with artists was celebrated earlier this month with an art exhibition in Beverly Hills. However, now other retailers are realising there is value in the ‘Spectacle’ concept and are beginning to follow suit, with brands Celine, Loewe’s and St Laurent featuring original works by Daido Moriyama, Helmut Newton and Grayson Perry in their stores.

Art and Retail Design

But the influence of art in retail experience goes beyond simply placing art in stores. Art is also influencing retail design. For example, Emin-inspired neons can be seen in stores up and down the country right now (including Pandora’s new Birmingham concept store that we wrote about earlier this month, which has since been nominated for a Retail Week Interiors Award). These neons are not being used for signage or wayfinding, they simply enhance the space by complimenting their surroundings or creating a particular atmosphere.

The pieces in the new Vuitton store have been described as “channelling happiness”. They have been carefully curated and teamed up with the layout and interior elements of the store to fulfil the design brief of “happiness without intimidation,” creating a joyful shopping experience and a place where shoppers will want to hang about. The use of colour and the vast installation on the exterior façade of the store (a collaboration between Carmel Said, Ansel Thompson and Faye McLeod) make it clear what you can expect to find once you are inside.

But don’t reach for the chequebook just yet – it isn’t necessary to install real (and expensive) pieces of art in order to create a spectacle store. We think it’s possible to create something special simply by exploring the way in which you use the space. Where the retail design is a work of art in itself – with creative elements being used to elicit different emotions in shoppers in the same way that an artwork might – people will still ‘come for the art and stay for the shoes’ or vice versa. Creating a memorable an emotional experience is what art – and shopping – are all about.

Have you visited a ‘spectacle store’ recently? Maybe you’ve seen some artistic influences in you own retail experience. Let us know in the comments section below.


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