This article was originally published in the Interior Design Yearbook 2021 by Media One, September 2020.
As Design Director of David Collins Studio, Lewis has led the design and delivery of the Studio’s hospitality and retail projects including the Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo worldwide store rollouts, projects for Harrods, David Morris, McQ, Louis Leeman, Pret A Manger and de Grisogono and most recently the 376 key hotel Le Meridien in Seoul. He works closely with Creative Director Simon Rawlings, ensuring that Simon’s creative vision is realised and overseeing each element of the design and delivery process at a senior level. In the 12 years since he joined David Collins Studio, Lewis has tackled an increasingly global scope of projects. Lewis has a particular passion for the FF&E aspect of his work, having started out as a furniture designer – a passion for beautifully made furnishings instilled from an early age with visits to his grandfather’s antique shop. He studied for his BA in Product & Furniture Design at De Montford University and while showing his graduation work at New Designers, was invited to bring in his portfolio by a member of the David Collins Studio team. He was immediately oﬀered a job and started on a part-time basis while studying for his Masters in Design Products at the Royal College of Art (under Ron Arad, in his valedictory year as professor). Here Lewis discusses creating a distinct identity when designing retail spaces and the aﬀect the Covid-19 pandemic is having on retail design.
With so many of our projects now much larger than ever before, with infrastructure-style projects sitting alongside more typical hospitality and residential design, retail projects give us the creative challenges of working with shorter construction programmes and with clients and brands that have such strong identities.
It is this mix of short and longer-term projects along with all the sectors that we work in (Retail, Hospitality, Residential, Maritime) that not only gives the David Collins Studio working environment such variety and energy, but also allows us a very unique viewpoint on luxury.
Retail projects provide the challenge of considering how every aspect of the design, right down to the smallest element, relates back to the brand and its values; the ultimate test being if you remove any logos from the space, can you tell who it belongs to? How does the chair, the door handle, lighting, product displays relate back to the brand and its values? All these considerations, along with the operational and functional suitability of the design, mean that successful retail spaces are the ones that have a marriage of functionality, brand values and a considered user experience.
When beginning a retail brief, we like to understand how the space we are designing can evolve with the brands. How we can build in flexibility to spaces that can show different product categories or pop-up spaces for new brands. How can we animate the space in different ways with unique experiences or installations? How can our designs provide opportunities for an ever-changing customer experience that ensure longevity and keeps people returning to the bricks and mortar store?
Some examples that we have completed recently have been bringing F&B offers direct into the retail environment. At the Harrods Roast and Bake Hall, we focused on bringing the story and provenance of the products directly to the customer. You can sit at the espresso bar and order a coffee roasted 5 meters away, and a pastry fresh out of the oven, baked in the same room. Continuing with Harrods, in both the women’s and men’s fashion departments we have designed many flexible spaces that can be used for pop-up promotions, new brands to be presented, or customisation and events to take place. These spaces also allow for mixing of product categories, giving Harrods the opportunity to create their own “edits”, that brand-loyal customers respond well to.
Finally, in the Alexander McQueen Savile Row store, we worked with Sadie Coles Gallery to curate a glass cube at the back of the store with contemporary art that changed on a monthly basis. This ensured that returning customers would experience something new and exciting during each visit. The element of surprise is key here.
All our projects have a distinct identity and a sense of place, whether a hospitality project, private home or retail store. Our approach is always to look at the building in which we are designing, the local surroundings, history and culture, and to take inspiration from all these elements to create something that is really unique to the project. We don’t try and force our own aesthetic into a space or try and fit in with a brand. Instead, it’s all about the individual project, brief and client, and the location of a project plays a big part in this. When we worked on the Menswear Floor masterplanning and redesign for Harrods, we took huge inspiration from the building, its incredible archive and history. But we also looked at contemporary men’s fashion, tailoring, patterns and shopping habits. Combining all these references together to create something completely unique but very Harrods and in-keeping with the Grade II listed building. Some of the feedback from the Harrods directors and customers alike when we opened Men’s Superbrands in 2018 was that it felt contemporary and new, but like it had always been there. It is a big compliment to the David Collins Studio design approach and the hard work and consideration we put into all the layers of detail when we receive comments like this.
In the current climate, so much of retail design is reacting very quickly to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the need for social distancing, one-way systems and sanitising stations. It will be interesting to see how these short-term solutions become part of the new vision for retail stores going forward and how these are permanently integrated into store design. Going forward, customers will want to feel that their personal privacy, safety, and security are continually being managed as the situation changes, and again, what is the right fit in one territory may not work in another. This will need to be managed with very well-considered, in-store customer services and ‘hospitality’. This does not just mean the staff who customers engage with on their journey through the store, but potentially the visibility of temperature checkers and cleaning teams. How does a brand demonstrate that cleaning is of paramount importance, whilst ensuring that it is brand-appropriate and not alarmist? Similarly, how do you demarcate social distancing without destroying the design integrity of the store?
Retail spaces will inevitably need to work harder in terms of their design, materiality and the new experiential narrative, to engage with customers in order to get people back into store. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, customers had become more demanding of brands and more critical of any perceived lack of authenticity, and this will continue. These days, customers can find anything online. But it is that physical interpretation of the brand, and the sense of community, that people want to be a part of. Retail stores will have to offer so much more, whilst also being safe and engaging spaces to draw customers from the safety of their homes.
With the current pandemic causing such a huge societal shift in how we go about our daily lives and the focus on health hygiene and the interactions we have, there will inevitably be an increase in personal and private shopping experiences. VIP fitting rooms and private spaces within stores that can be managed with a well-considered hospitality strategy may fulfil this shift.
Building the ceremony of service into the design and functionality of the store experience has always been key for David Collins Studio. Indeed, this was a large consideration when designing the global retail rollouts for Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo. We designed a private bridal space for the Jimmy Choo Townhouse on Bond Street, and VIP fitting rooms at Harrods in both men’s and womenswear departments at Harrods. Luxury stores that have the luxury of space will be able to build them into their private shopping experiences. Brands that already manage their brand story, store design, sales strategy, and have a robust CRM database will have a head start here. Beyond Covid-19, the retail landscape has been changing for a while, with a more demanding customer seeking authentic and well-considered shopping experiences in return for their brand loyalty. This situation may also further the sustainability agenda as a heightened sense of risk or threat permeates society and the economy. Ultimately, if brands stick to what they do well, collaborate with the best consultants, deliver the best in terms of design, craft and operations, and continue to invest in building a community within their client base, they will survive and succeed.