Open any morning paper, and it seems like every day there’s another casualty of the “retail apocalypse.” The reality of the retail industry, however, tells a different story: even as many legacy companies – from Neiman Marcus to Barneys – struggle to keep pace with shifting market forces, a number of dynamic young brands are rising up in their place. High streets across the world are filled with success stories of retail innovators leveraging a fresh approach to secure customer loyalty and spur growth.
Take Mackage, for example. This Canadian outerwear brand is on track to build a network of new stores, aiming to develop its presence on the ground in fashion capitals like Paris, London, New York and Hong Kong.
As the design agency of record for the brand since 2015, design studio Burdifilek has built 12 of their stores to date – most recently, Mackage launched a flagship store in its hometown of Montréal. The trajectory of their retail expansion is a compelling case study for how brands can unite strategy and design to execute a best-in-class experience to propel growth around the world.
A strong design concept communicates a clear vision for how the brand serves and sells.
From the very beginning, Mackage represented a novel entrant into the outerwear sector, offering sophisticated, statement coats that blurred the lines between performance and style. Initially, the brand built its presence and gained traction through digital channels and wholesale distribution. Once it was ready to launch its own stores, the founders came with a clear vision for the brand and how it would translate to serve and sell its collections in the store environment.
“The detail and the care we take in creating our garments is the center of our brand. With that in mind, we knew our stores needed to be designed in a way that would allow customers to experience the details – the fit and fashion – of each product,” explains Eran Elfassy, Co-Founder and Co-Creative Director at Mackage.
The task for the design team was to bring new levels of consideration to every touchpoint in the customer journey. Retailers know a strong first impression draws prospective customers to cross the leaseline, and discerning customers are attracted to a clear, compelling point of view. A successful store concept communicates a brand’s values confidently in its experience.
Armed with a blank canvas, the concept of an urban ski chalet was born to embody the modern refinement of Mackage’s brand. The environment was envisioned as a welcome respite for shoppers, where subtle sculptural references to snow, ice and cold are expressed in warm tones and noble materials in order to create an intimate cocoon from the elements.
One priority for Mackage was to elevate its quality of service by taking a cue from luxury retailers. In contrast to other outerwear brands, Mackage chose to display only one size per style and color to showcase the beautiful silhouette and design detail of its product collections.
“Consumer engagement is always a priority for us,” said Elfassy. “By limiting the selection of product displayed on the floor, customers have direct access to our sales associates with questions and recommendations. We chose to empower real engagement and interaction – and this added element truly elevates our store experience.”
Flawless execution through design discernment
Anticipating the launch of multiple locations, flexibility was a key consideration when future-proofing the design to fit a variety of real estate configurations. Working with the same design vocabulary, while scaling architecturally to individual sites allows the brand to tell the same story in any format around the world, whether in a pop-up or in a standalone.
“From Montréal to Hong Kong, customers can walk into our stores and feel the same sense of elevation,” commented Elisa Dahan, Co-Founder and Co-Creative Director. “They trust that they will receive the same experience of sophistication, quality and consideration that defines the Mackage ethos.”
However, communicating the brand’s distinction and refinement across a space – or multiple spaces around the globe – hinges on effective execution. In the past, the launch of additional stores would entail a systematized roll-out process by the design team, but this era of retail requires a different approach. The retail experience must now ensure consistency and cultural relevance across its network, to create enhanced brand value for both the retailer and consumer.
“As the first step with every new piece of real estate, the three creative directors – two from Mackage, one from Burdifilek – would strategize on design to tailor the store experience for that specific market. We take pride in every store we open because it’s an incredibly hands-on approach,” commented Marianne Lauzon, Chief Marketing Officer, Mackage.
Building upon the urban ski chalet concept, evaluating each architectural envelope and cultural backdrop individually helped Mackage ensure that attention to detail and quality are never compromised.
For the latest Montréal flagship, this called for careful attention to the site’s historic architectural framework, which was meticulously protected by retaining original details and reinstating elements to highlight its timeless beauty. Volumetric articulations respect the rhythm and structure of the historic building by sitting quietly as a backdrop for products to shine, while the old world charm is personified through the warm, textured layers of noble materials to impart an uncompromising quality and elegance.
This approach establishes a benchmark for every store launch to be stronger than the last.
Consistency across the global Mackage experience
Retailers have traditionally sought to expand by developing their presence in markets across North America before venturing overseas.
Mackage, however, had already established its global presence through digital and wholesale distribution channels, and its brand was in demand. Aiming to go where its audience is, this retailer altered the trajectory of its expansion plans to instead target a handful of key fashion capitals around the world. In the current retail market, which demands quality over quantity, this approach, combined with Mackage’s ability to tailor the brand’s distinctive concept to each unique location while ensuring a global consistency, has served them well.
Some of the takeaways for its effective strategy: a strong design concept communicating a clear vision for how the brand serves and sells, flawless execution through design discernment and consistency across their global retail experience.
The power of a global brand presence compounds when design is a strategic partner in the process of continuous improvement. In the case of Mackage, its store strategy and design concept has proven effective in advancing its expansion plans around the world, with both landlords and consumers alike actively taking notice to welcome their presence into new urban centers.
Paul Filek and Diego Burdi are the founding partners at Burdifilek, an award-winning international interior design firm based in Toronto. With more than 25 years of experience in designing concepts and building the store presence for both new and established retailers, the studio is the creative force behind brands across the world, including Shinsegae, Hanwha Galleria, Joe Fresh, Mackage, Indigo and Holt Renfrew.