Strong colour stories, archive furniture designs and a curated selection of contemporary British artists and makers create this one-of-a-kind show apartment at The Bryanston, Hyde Park for Almacantar. Designed by David Collins Studio, with curation by Nick Vinson.
“It’s having that real moment of sanctuary,” describes Lewis Taylor, David Collins Studio’s Design Director, about dressing rooms. “They're a little bit of a forgotten space, but we consider them as one of the most important selling spaces."
He explains: "It's the time where the customer is probably the most intimate with the actual clothing, when they're alone in the fitting room space, and they've got that time and privacy to think about the piece. So it's really important that they're comfortable; they feel secure in that space. And I think it also needs to be able to say something about the brand in a very subtle way.”
David Collins Studio, renowned for its soft lighting and attention to detail, has designed dressing rooms for both private and commercial residences as well as luxury retail spaces. Its current arsenal includes those for: Alexander McQueen’s London Bond Street, Paris and Tokyo stores; Jimmy Choo’s New Bond Street townhouse; Harrods’ Men’s Contemporary and International Designer rooms, plus advanced International Designers Womenswear and, soon, Lingerie. There is also The Apartment at The Connaught and The Mandarin Oriental Doha Spa dressing rooms.
Most recently, David Collins Studio has designed the private dressing room of the Principal Suite of The Bryanston show apartment at Hyde Park, a luxury new location comprising 54 apartments. Inside, the walls of the principal bedroom are upholstered in Loro Piana cashmere wool. There is a 12-drawer chest based on an original design by David Collins for his home, which has been reimagined in cedar timber with “Shaded Cloud” cashmere wool-wrapped handles and bronze details. Wardrobe space is sleek, discrete, organised and floor to ceiling. There is a floor-standing mirror in the dressing room along with a TechnoGym Excite Live exercise bike – a bedroom and dressing room par excellence.
“It’s very much designed,” explains Siobhan Kelly, David Collins Studio’s Associate Director, who heads up residential, “to showcase the opportunities that you have with this incredible development. You have the views, this curved facade. And we were asked to create something that was a combination of inviting but also a little bit whimsical and drew from the context of the development’s location, Hyde Park, and we worked with a number of makers and artisans to develop little twists on signature David Collins pieces.”
In creating a dressing room, Kelly points out there are certain overlaps with retail. “When you’re selling a product, you’re also selling a lifestyle at that luxury level. And so you’re trying to capture some elements of that within a dressing room in a private home.”
In the past that has meant a penchant for more lounge-y salon set-ups and a crossover with retail-like displays for handbags and shoes. Lately, she notes, however there has been a shift towards wellness (hence the addition of the exercise bike). She elaborates: “When you get into designing the really private areas for individuals in their own homes, they’re really reflecting their lifestyle.” It’s about their rituals.
In retail that means making the customer feel secure and comfortable in a potentially vulnerable space. It’s in this space after all those decisions are made; and it’s in this space that there is the allure of transformation. As a shopper, when one comes across a great dressing room, in either practical or decorated terms, it makes for nothing short of a magical shopping experience.
At the Alexander McQueen store in Paris that is exactly what you will find. The David Collins Studio team worked with Sarah Burton, the creative director of the house (she took over following the death of designer Alexander McQueen in 2010), to look for a common thread among the brand's shows and collections to create a kind of Alexander McQueen world.
Typically, Alexander McQueen shows and collections have always been very different so the task was to find a way to create this universe in a way that wouldn’t date and that couldn't be specifically pin-pointed, but that felt very Alexander McQueen. A recurring theme was to be found in the use of dark and light, soft and hard.
“We wanted to do something unique and special,” says Taylor of what was one of the biggest stores they have worked on. Padded walls featured in the fitting rooms, a familiar theatrical brand touchpoint (die-hard Alexander McQueen fans will recall the spring/summer 2001 show, called Voss, in which the audience sat around a reflective cube which lifted to reveal a glass holding cell through which the models walked). Rendered in linen to provide a pleasant acoustic quality, they also look and feel luxe, even though the original idea was to tap into something distinctly Alexander McQueen, a little sinister, there is a clever duality.
The Studio further worked with the brand when it came to the custom wall coverings that can be found outside the vestibules. They include skulls and sea anemones (an archival Alexander McQueen illustration) and it takes a closer look for these to be revealed - looking light, pretty and floral at first. Once again, it’s the brand's not-what-it-seems house touchstones that have been highlighted. These also came by way of the cast bronze handles, handmade in wax, which reference the Alexander McQueen Plato’s Atlantis collection. The idea was to “set the scene from the first customer touchpoints,” explains Taylor.
At Harrods, where David Collins Studio has a long-standing design relationship, it was less about the brand and more about the operations. An extra-large fitting room with a curtained-off section for larger groups was created for the advanced International Designers Womenswear section. Privacy of space was important as were the light settings, which are a defining element of David Collins Studio's work. Indoor and outdoor residential lighting provide a better idea of how your potential purchase might look, transforming you into the moment. The outfit and the person become the centre story.
“We want people to feel glamorous and amazing in these spaces,” says Taylor. “Scale and proportion are really important, bringing things down to feel cosy and intimate, human scale.” The Studio is now working on dressing rooms for Lingerie, where once again lighting options - daytime, evening and cocktail - are taken into consideration to make potentially vulnerable spaces feel special and safe. It is the product and operations that dictate the space.
For the Men’s Contemporary dressing room, The Studio worked with Baker Furniture to create a custom crosshatch design, wrapping the fitting rooms with it as well as using it on the carpets. Once again curtains can close off for larger groups shopping together. The aim was to feel slightly younger and contemporary, catering to the streetwear offering among the floor. There are more mirrors and polished stainless steel.
In contrast, the Men’s International Designer dressing rooms feature black lacquered and padded leather blue panels. Attention is paid to sartorial details, and translated into interior and design tweaks. Detail stitches akin to cuff links or a man’s watch; referencing male clothing in subtle details; these were the important customer touchpoints.
Of course when it comes to dressing rooms, that doesn't just mean clothes. For the Jimmy Choo townhouse, on New Bond Street, a flexible approach was taken. A back bar beyond soft plump seating to try on shoes meant there is a distinct change in the feel of the space. The store becomes a retreat. The bar can be for coffee or cocktails with lighting to suit the mood. It is a place ideal for social bridal groups on the one hand, or private shopping on the other; and works to be as versatile as possible while still maintaining that Jimmy Choo luxe.
Taylor points out that when it comes to creating the ultimate dressing room, arguably a holy grail be it in retail or residential, the trick is actually to think small: it’s the “tiny things that can make a huge difference,” he says.