October 21, 2019 / Trend

Raw Forms In Retail

In contrast to the immersive spaces flooding the retail landscape, brutalist-inspired stores are making their way into the luxury space. Coined from the term béton brut, French for “raw concrete”, stores are minimal, often grey-ish in tone, defined in texture and have a strikingly simple design.

Taking away from overwhelming saturated spaces of colour, traditional brutalism is taking on modernised design, utilising colour to stand out against the grey background. Plush textiles, curvaceous forms, diffused colour and light lend a comforting and intimate quality to hard, brutalist spaces.

Seoul-based designer Jeonghwa Seo focuses on the physical qualities of raw materials in his interior for local café and wine bar Et Cetera. The concrete space is complemented with cast aluminium, oak and brass furniture in emphasised forms. Mulberry’s Regent Street store mixes hard and soft interiors, with soft furnishings juxtaposed with brutalist-inspired taupe-grey concrete walls. Lighting plays a key role in softening the potentially harsh environment, ambient across the wall, highlighting the products.

Reinterpreting Brutalist era buildings, The Standard hotel battles London’s grey exterior with a 70’s style colourful rooms. The contrast of bold colours with grey is a unique take on modernising brutalism. Harvard’s brutalist Smith Campus Centre also stylizes brutalism, receiving a dramatic makeover, refurbishing the building with warm lights, larger windows and wood textures.

The industrial look and feel of aluminium is being exploited in retail spaces, where cold, metallic finishes lend a quirky and futuristic quality to contemporary interiors. Balenciaga’s new store on Sloane Street exudes an industrial feel, uniting street style with London’s urban luxury. The bright colours of the clothes draw focus, starkly contrasting the grey and metallic store decor.

Menswear store in Zhengzhou, China, also draws inspiration from local culture, mixing plaster concrete and steel to form a greyscale interior. Speaking to Dezeen, the brand hopes that “the use of a material distinctive to China will subtly reflect the ethics of the brand, which aims to promote domestic fashion brands and emerging local designers”.

Linked with sustainability, stores are often reusing materials to create the desired minimal effect. Looking at raw forms and structures, designers are reevaluating the waste economy, experimenting with non-virgin materials, advocating for creating stone cycling. In late 2018, Starbucks incorporated the used material into its coffee bar and drive-through counters at three stores in Romania and one in the UK.

As retail becomes more saturated, bringing a minimalistic grey approach to a store can bring an experience rooted in space and ease, highlighting the product without distractions.

Key Insights

  • When considering store identity, look to materials to tell a narrative that goes beyond the product, whether that’s heritage, sustainability or context.
  • As physical and digital retail becomes overwhelmed with products, brands should look at how colour, or lack thereof, can help to merchandise in the best possible way.

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