The new face of fashion retail: the facade design of luxury brands

From Prada to Bulgari: a look back at five mesmerising facades for luxury retail stores that transformed the urban streetscape and showcased brand identity.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Dec 16, 2021

Luxury brands and retail outlets faced severe setbacks in the last two years. As the high streets remained empty for the most part of 2020, so did the luxury stores lining them. In 2021, however, as people began to go back and re-indulge in the experience of high-end fashion and jewellery, a lot of the brands faced a new dilemma. The ease with which it was possible for many of these brands to transfer their retail to the digital realm, now were confronted with the task of attracting their clients back to their physical stores. This resulted in some fascinating and mesmerising facade designs that explore not only the impact of luxury as a spatial experience but also confront their urban presence. Ranging from jewellery design brands such as Cartier to couture collections by Balenciaga and Prada, the facades of these buildings explore intricate details of the brand's larger vision and aesthetic. It also brings up the importance of retail design not only as an interior but also as an exterior production. Gone are the days of storefront windows being the primary face of a brand. The following examples from this year reveal a far more nuanced approach to the generation of a brand identity.

1. Cartier by Klein Dytham architecture

Located in Shinsaibashi, a high-end shopping district of Osaka, the store occupies the base of an existing building | Cartier | Klein Dytham architecture | STIRworld
Located in Shinsaibashi, a high-end shopping district of Osaka, the store occupies the base of an existing building Image: Courtesy of Cartier

Cartier's storefront in Osaka, Japan, features over 2,500 handcrafted Hinoki cypress modules to create a 3D patterned wooden façade connected with both Japanese craft traditions and the French luxury brand's aesthetics. The Tokyo-based Klein Dytham architecture created a scheme that resembled patterns of interlocking diamonds, in a play of diagonally protruding solids and voids influenced by both Cartier's classic jewellery and Japanese sake boxes. The Japanese cypress is frequently used in traditional Japanese architecture. While bathed in sunlight during the day, a strategic lighting design fitted with LED lights illuminates the façade at night. The facade distorts the notions of depth and perspective, oscillating between two-dimensional patterns and three-dimensional relief.

2. Feels Like Prada by Prada

The first few interventions in Milan modify and multiply their surrounding urban panoramas | Feels Like Prada | Prada | STIRworld
The first few interventions in Milan modify and multiply their surrounding urban panoramas Image: Courtesy of Prada

Prada's Fall/Winter 2021 campaign extended beyond the runway to decorate everyday surfaces with the new collection's prints and motifs. As part of the collection's promotional strategy, the Italian luxury fashion house transformed the façades of buildings across Milan into a canvas for the brands Fall/Winter 2021 hypnotic geometric patterns. The project infused public spaces with an atmosphere that is quintessentially Prada and was an intersection of fashion design and graphic design. The collection was designed by Co-Creative Directors, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons; the heart of the collection celebrates the tactile and sensorial aspects of luxury design, a detail that was incorporated into the graphic art of the animated facades. Prada also collaborated with Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas to create a digital space for their Fall/Winter 2021 menswear digital show.

3. A-POC ABLE ISSEY MIYAKE by Tokujin Yoshioka

The store is housed in a traditional Japanese machiya building | A-POC ABLE ISSEY MIYAKE | Tokujin Yoshioka | STIRworld
The store is housed in a traditional Japanese machiya building Image: Masaya Yoshimura, Copist; Courtesy of ISSEY MIYAKE INC

Inspired by the manufacturing technique of Issey Miyake, which fuses technology with handcrafts, this space expresses the contrast of history and the future, housed in a traditional machiya-style structure in Kyoto. Combining the traditional architectural form to situate the iconic Japanese fashion brand in the context of the city and district, Tokujin Yoshioka reinterprets the façade and draws an aesthetic reference from the parent brand, with a deep black finish. The retail design for A-POC ABLE ISSEY MIYAKE balances a futuristic aesthetic within a vernacular building typology by finding a balance between the two.

4. Balenciaga's 50th Couture collection by Balenciaga

Balenciaga's internal architectural team has transformed Tank Shanghai into a Couture salon and display space for its 50th Couture collection | Tank Shanghai | Balenciaga | STIRworld
Balenciaga's internal architectural team has transformed Tank Shanghai into a Couture salon and display space for its 50th Couture collection Image: Courtesy of Balenciaga

Spanish luxury fashion house Balenciaga brought in their 50th Couture collection through a façade and interior intervention at Tank Shanghai, China. Tank Shanghai is an art and culture park by Shanghai-based OPEN Architecture and is housed within a few redundant aviation fuel containers. One of these tanks houses Balenciaga's precious Couture collection, transforming the space into a Couture salon, a showroom, a grand hall, and a banquet room for a five-day schedule of viewings, fittings, tours, and performances. While the intervention is almost entirely internal, the tapestry creates an interesting contrast to the concrete exteriors of the museum.

5. Bulgari by MVRDV

Bulgari Shanghai features a jade façade made from recycled champagne bottles | Bulgari  | MVRDV| STIRworld
Bulgari Shanghai features a jade façade made from recycled champagne bottlesImage: Courtesy of

Rotterdam-based firm MVRDV used recycled champagne bottles to create the façade of the Italian luxury jewellery brand's flagship store in Shanghai. Crafted out of green and transparent bottles, the facade design has been drawn from two key influences: the design of the portals and cornices of the luxury brand's first boutique store in Rome's Via Condotti, and Shanghai's historic Art Deco architecture. With layers of cross-cultural reference, the gold-coloured brass trim gives the façade an appearance like jade jewellery. The façade also alludes to the potential of recycled materials and sustainability in design processes, especially in luxury contexts.

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