Rufus Knight won a Purple Pin award and picked up gold in the Emerging Designer category for Retail in the Best Design Awards last week. We asked for his opinions on retail, design and the fit-out which won him his award, Lonely in Ponsonby.
What do you think of the state of retail design right now?
I think the state of retail design in New Zealand is currently on a cusp – it feels like brands, both upcoming and established, are starting to see the value in investing on spaces that strengthen their identity. The is a strong tradition of this in high-end New Zealand retail – think of how much a part of the Zambesi, Karen Walker, and Crane Bros. stores were to their brand identity – but I think it’s really positive to see new business’ continuing that lineage and creating spaces that tell a more complete picture of what their brand represents.
What are some design pitfalls many retailers fall for?
Like anything, I think the key pitfall for retailers is style over substance – ‘service’ and ‘knowledgeable’ should be your cornerstones. If you have a space that speaks to the aesthetic and direction of your brand, that’s great, but if your customers feel alienated or confused about what you’re offering you’ve missed the point. People are trying to give you their money; don’t make it difficult for them.
Can you name some retailers (local or otherwise) that you think are doing spacial design really well?
Personally, I felt Wunderkammer in Auckland was the perfect synthesis of style and service. The space was eclectic, highly detailed, with a European intelligence – exactly like the product Mark Crane was selling and exactly like the service you experienced when you entered.
Similarly, Murray Crane has always done an exceptional job of curating his Crane Bros. store both in terms of customer service and fitout. Working in the Zambesi stores when I was younger left a huge impression on me – say what you like about their service, at least it was consistent.
More recently I feel stores like Flotsam & Jetsam in Auckland and Brown & Co in Wellington are inviting and engaging spaces that reflect the personalities of their owners. Also Katie Lockhart’s Everyday Needs is, I think, very progressive for retailing in New Zealand. It’s really important for the diversity of the industry that niche products have a voice and I think what Katie is doing is really bold.
Internationally, I think there’s no question that Acne Studios are still at the forefront of retail design. I really enjoy the Saint Laurent stores and the consistency of Hedi Slimane’s direction, and conceptually I think what Carlo Brandelli at Kilgour has put forward on Saville Row is very interesting.
Tell us about what your vision for Lonely. What were you seeking to achieve?
Lonely is womenswear that inspires a youthful creative spirit. Lonely Ponsonby is a branding touchpoint and a place for customers to interact and buy product on both an analogue and digital level. [It’s] forward-thinking with regard to digital integration but service-focused. The store aims to [be] beautiful, unique, and modern – yet simple.
I wanted a design direction that would align with international shopping districts and that reflected the young brand’s global outlook. Material and texture were key in creating an image that would complement this direction. Exploring an idea of ‘soft industrial’ – a dichotomy between robust materials that had a tactile or unexpected finish – salvaged timber parquetry, sandblasted marble, and finely perforated mesh combine to make the store feel sophisticated without feeling unapproachable.
The Lonely brand speaks strongly about layers of intimacy, so creating a retail space that focuses on the customer, their experience, and the process of buying lingerie – confidence, privacy, and warmth – was essential. I wanted the space to say something romantic but in a modern vocabulary.
How did the process go?
The process with Steve Ferguson and Helene Morris at Lonely was very intuitive. From the beginning we were aligned on what the store needed to represent; not in terms of finer details, [but] more on what level, conceptually, the service, the finishes, the furniture, the experience should be. With that understanding in place we worked with the team at Fabricate Architects and Robinson Interiors to develop the detail and execution of the space, which, again, was very intuitive and straightforward.
Do you have any other retail projects on the go right now? If so, can you tell us about them?
We are currently finishing Lonely Wellington, opening early November, which will have a similar language to the Ponsonby store but aims to be more suited to the Wellington market and climate. Following the success of the first Lonely store there have been a number of enquiries but it’s really important to establish expectations for these clients – successful fit-outs are the result of commitment, teamwork, and a shared vision.