Denim — the material that is more a statement that just a fabric. Over the years, jeans have not just clothed people but imparted a style and created a symbol into the image of the wearer. Rebelliousness, Americana, counterculture — all have very intimate connections with denim, so much so that merely wearing jeans confers these qualities to the wearer.
Having conducted an in-depth study into and analysis of denim retail experiences across the world and through the years, Restore’s founder Anirudha Mukhedkar sees immense scope in the evolution of denim retail design all over the world. Here he examines the denim context and tries to see a way that this experience can evolve into in the future.
Creating a denim experience in your store design is a challenge pregnant with the possibility of missed opportunities. To create a unique, differentiated and evocative denim experience we will need to understand the multiple layers of meaning woven into its warp and weft.
Merely looking at a burgeoning youth population and considering denim as a leveraging of business potential does not just reflect opportunism, but is the eventual seed of failure.
Good store design must begin with a strong brand story. A story that the creators are passionate about. A story that is rooted in an inalienable truth. And one that draws from the rich source of meaning in the product. What is the brand’s interpretation? What is its unique point-of-view?
What does the brand believe in?
These are important questions. They demand truth and authenticity in response. Once you have that, you have laid the foundation for a strong denim brand and an inspirational engine for a superb store experience.
What happens when you don’t have a point of view?
Chances are that you will end up with a store design that tells people a story that they are most likely aware of.
There are two common traps that we fall into:
The Heritage Story
This is not a bad story by half! Let there be no doubt about it. There is tremendous romance associated with the heritage story.
There are two questions you will need to ask, depending on who is asking these questions:
- Are you a brand with heritage?
- If you are a brand with heritage, how are you relevant to the contemporary consumer?
Across India, you will see numerous brands that attempt to create a sense of faux heritage. Usually, this is interpreted in the nature of materials and lighting used in the design of interiors and the type of fixtures.
It doesn’t take rocket science for a customer to realize that this is inauthentic. And it takes less than a moment to experience a sense all denim stores look the same. More or less.
If you’re lucky and you have a great Brand Ambassador, then you will have some cut through and off take, but you’d be fooling yourself if you believe that your store design is working. It isn’t. It just wont work. Ever.
But what if your brand has heritage? What if you are a Levi’s?
There are so many stories to tell. And most of them have been told. And are being told.
A cursory look a the Levi’s communication will show you how everything about the brand is rooted in the product. And how the product is rich with the possibilities for every customer to imagine their own story.
We wondered, how do these stories move from communication into the retail experience? How do these tales get expressed in visual merchandising? How are they relevant to the consumer today?
Sorry, but not much happening here either.
You end up with a store that looks like any other within the category. With the only advantage that you are able to come from a position that is authentic.
But truly, does your consumer really care how old you are? How does being over 150 years old make a difference to me today?
For the longest time we all know that Jeans and Americana are deeply intertwined. Through the years, jeans have been the expression of popular American culture. Captured in many iconic moments that defined what America stood for and hence, what jeans stood for.
A few important questions beg to be asked:
- What do those iconic moments have to do with your brand?
- What is popular American culture today?
- As countries and continents discover their own fashion expressions, how globally relevant is Americana today?
Again, brands use Americana with a sense of borrowed entitlement. At best, arrogating to their brand the values associated with the category or a few global brands.
This too is steeped in untruth and inauthenticity.
This too breeds a sense of sameness most often seen in store graphics and visual merchandising.
Drop the guitar! Abandon rock ‘n’ roll! Think beyond sex appeal!
Go back to your product story. Go back to your brand story.
So is there a way of looking at things that’s different from the way its been done before?
There is. And it’s happening.
In America. In Europe.In Asia.
New York. Amsterdam. Japan.
There are several movements taking place across the Denim world.
Almost all of these keep the product at its centre.
Let’s examine 3 broad themes underlying these movements:
- Reinterpretation of Denim. Shift from America to Europe and Asia.
- Beliefs and a point-of-view
- Connection with the present
(A) Reinterpretation of Denim
This stems from the belief that Denim is alive and every changing. Creating an endless allure for the product.
Amsterdam, which is believed to be the capital of denim in Europe, is leading some of the most fascinating reinventions with denim. Take the case of Mick Keus, an atelier based in Amsterdam who is focusing his efforts on repurposing the classic Levi’s 501. Mick Keus takes old Levi’s 501s and recrafts a completely new pair out of them. Each pair has its own story. And these stories are being re-engineered with new layers of meaning that result in the birth of a pair of jeans that are ready for new stories being told.
(Nudie Jeans Repair Shop, example for redefining and reusing denims, the culture of no-throw when it comes to jeans)
When it comes to jeans, how they “fit” has dictated what people choose and wear. As “fits” become commoditized, the idea of engineering new fits is an opportunity retail brands cannot afford to miss. Add to this are the opportunities that are emerging in the area of fabric and finish innovations.
Take a look at what Wrangler is attempting to do. Across the world.
With a new focus on “riding” (nor horse, but motorbikes), Wrangler has engineered new fits, fabrics and finishes that enhance the ride experience. It’s a strong story. Opening up an endless series of opportunities in the way the store is designed and the way the merchandise is visually presented.
Or G Star Raw, who believe its all about “product, and nothing else” (Pictures later in the document).
Whether its the story of “lion torn” jeans or the extreme fabric innovations emerging from Japan, the product is once again the hero. A canvas with new stories being told. Giving retail designers and visual merchandisers a new window to look through as they create differentiated store experiences.
(B) Belief and Point-of-View
The idea of heritage obviously holds no relevance for contemporary brands. Yet, we have seen how brands have successfully created unique stories that only they could tell. These stories emerge from a set of beliefs held by their creators Points-of-view as to how they see the world and the way their products fit in.
Diesel is one of the brands that has straddled the contrasting dimensions thrown up by the contrasting ideas between contemporary culture and individuality. Between designer fashion and irreverence. Giving the world a brand that allows people to dress up and belong, at the same time gives them a voice that lets them make a strong statement about their individuality.
Expressed in design terms, we see use of upscale and quirkier interior design and fixturing pointing towards the brands premiumness which is then contrasted with visual merchandising and window display that reflect the brands irreverent streak.
Restore believes that this could of course be done the other way as well. Where you have store interiors and fixtures making a strong brand statement while the VM helps make a strong fashion statement. The important thing is that the design is inspired by the brands belief.
Does your brand have a belief? No?
How can you store provide a unique experience?
(C ) Connection with the Present
There are brands that strongly believe that Denims need to correspond with the present. Despite being born amidst the mileu of strong denim heritage, some of these brands have chosen to walk on the edge of contemporary fashion symbolism.
Largely, this emerges from a deep seated confidence in the design value of the product. Most often, born from the confidence and belief of the people who created it.
While the world reveled in the glorious expressions of Americana, there were brands like Calvin Klein which took giant strides into the world of Denim with its high fashion product and over sexuality. When Brooke Shields boldly claimed “nothing can come between me and my Calvin Klein” the world of Denim opened up for designer brands to find their own expressions of how Denim could be worn.
Suddenly, denim got a new lease of life. A whole new generation had a new set of iconic brand to follow. A newer set of stories to be made around denim and people’s lives.
Translated into store experience, this led to retail design built around smoother and glossier finishes. A more contemporary, neo-modernistic design aesthetic. From Calvin Klein to a Guess. From Tommy Hilfiger to DKNY. From Armani to Seven for all Mankind.
In sum, designing a cut-through, differentiated experience begins with a belief. It doesn’t matter what the belief is, as long as it is true and authentic. It becomes the source of enormous confidence and inspiration. Which in turn creates a springboard for product designers, retail designers, visual merchandisers and communication specialists to express themselves. To tell stories in retail and in brand communication.
So if you want to design a denim store, start with the belief.
Then leave it to the designers to express it.