Grand Tour

Why you should feel bullish about retail in 2014
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Posted December 12, 2013

As we approach the New Year, I’ve been taking a step back and take the proverbial “30,000 foot view” of where things stand in the world of retail design.

I spent a lot of time over the past year flying around the world to visit stores and malls in France, Turkey, the Philippines, Morocco, Spain, Italy, the U.K., Canada and on both coasts of the United States. Again and again on these travels, I was struck by creative, high-quality retail design and architecture.

In Paris, I was taken aback by the renovated shops and public spaces at bustling Charles de Gaulle Airport, with its dramatic sculptural installations and warm seating areas replete with an array of modern and French historical-inspired furniture. It was a visceral experience that made me feel as though I had been dropped off at the Parisian shops after a trip to the Eiffel Tower.

Throughout the new terminal, the attention to detail was remarkable, and the atmosphere was lively. People sat at cafes drinking coffee and snacking on macaroons. Travelers, some of them sitting on pod-like furniture fashioned to look like tennis balls, stared intently at flat-screen TVs tuned to the French Open. The marble floors gave the impression of handpicked and laboriously worked stone—something worthy of an 18th-Century palace rather than an airport. Then again, this was Paris.

In Istanbul, I was intrigued by the architecture of the Kanyon Mall, which was inspired by the kind of view one might get from looking down into an enormous canyon. With its natural theme, this architectural space provides an unusual backdrop for the mall’s 160 stores and restaurants. Working as they were in an emerging market, the designers could have gone with a safer “racetrack” shape. Instead, they took a risk.

On a visit to Casablanca, I was impressed by the luxury store complex at Morocco Mall. The Fendi store, in particular, was a sight to behold, with its sweeping, 50-foot-tall entrance and incredible metal- and stonework. For years , the country has had no shortage of pedestrian retail. Seeing Fendi’s über-luxurious store, as well as the Islamic-inspired patterning and textures throughout the mall, underscored how brave retail can be in emerging markets today.

Brands can lose their way when they try to manufacture an experience superficially—by, say, faking the structure of a building or using the highest-quality design materials in a store that sells terrible products.

I was reminded of the need for integrity at a recent conference at which Jean-Claude Biver, the ceo of luxury watchmaker Hublot, gave a rousing address. His basic point was that brand emerges as a byproduct of traditional values such as hard work, passion, character, creativity and commitment to quality. Like risk-taking retail design, it cannot be faked.

Peter Burgoyne is creative director at CBX, a global branding and retail design firm.