Christophe Carpente, founder of Notting Hill based practice CAPS, has carved out a career designing and building retail stores for some of the biggest names in luxury, including De Beers, Cartier, Boucheron, Bulgari, Hugo Boss and Burberry. His work encompasses graphics, packaging, lighting, visual merchandising, offices and showrooms and ranges from entire buildings to a 1cm ring holder. Swarovski, Vertu and Pandora have implemented Carpente’s designs in their stores round the globe.
The way consumers interact with luxury brands has changed radically and this is now translating directly into the thinking behind luxury store design, Carpente believes.
“Luxury brands are increasingly determined to communicate a sense of individuality. They’re opting for smaller stores, less boxed-in sections, more open floor plans and they are clocking a penchant for concept stores,” says Carpente. “Take Louis Vuitton. It has reduced the size of its formerly cathedral-like stores and has collaborated with fashionable concept store Dover Street Market on limited edition, highly collectible handbags. It’s a context where consumers prefer buying quality items locally rather than entering the universe of a corporate giant. There is even a parallel in the world of supermarkets, where mini supermarkets are now cannibalising corner grocery stores.”
Carpente recently designed stores in Taipei and Shanghai for jeweller Hearts On Fire, owned by Chinese jewellery giant Chow Tai Fook. Reflecting a global trend for locallystyled stores, Hearts On Fire’s Shanghai location includes sparkling chandelier fixtures representing a starry moonlit sky, while the Taipei store, positioned within fashionable 24 hour concept book store Eslite, is more subtle and intimate, with a central communal table encouraging conversation between shoppers.
Design has evolved to make consumers feel more at ease within stores, explains Carpente. “Originally at De Beers, we made a bold, dramatic statement with plain black walls and glass partitions. Today, the stores are softer and more feminine, incorporating oak instead of ebony. If you look at Chanel, the materials are rich and luxurious, but the overall designs are simple, inviting visitors to walk through.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the internet and social media have driven the desire for individualistic, seek-and-you-shall-find experiences, which has in turn prompted more approachable and welcoming luxury spaces.
“These days, before consumers even step foot into a store, they might be armed with more information than sales staff. Prior to online shopping, sales staff had the upper hand. That relationship is now transformed and it’s reflected in store design. In the 90s there was the grey, cold enormity of Calvin Klein’s store on Madison Avenue, in the 2000s we had the maximalist opulence of Gucci and Versace. Nowadays, luxury brands compete not just with other maisons but with creative individuals, working in a range of crafts and locations, who are launching successful brands by garnering their own following online and offline,” says Carpente.
With purchases of jewellery, watches and valuable gifts in Hong Kong having taken a plummet south recently - down 23% in the first quarter of 2016 according to Bloomberg Intelligence - Carpente believes we could soon see reduced demand for new stores and cost pressure on store builds.
“There’s nothing like an economic cycle to spark a new design trend. Hugo Boss has been negotiating worldwide with its landlords to secure lower priced rental agreements. If Hugo Boss is doing it, you can be sure others are following. We may see a trend for simpler, less extravagant store design, he says.”
Claire Adler is a writer, speaker and consultant on luxury goods, and a regular contributor to the Financial Times.