Getting people to line up outside of a SoHo store on a cold February night is no small feat, but Prada managed to pull that off with help from Hypebeast.
Once past the velvet ropes, guests weren’t getting first dibs on any exclusives, but a glimpse of the new installation “Hyper Leaves.” Taking the outdoors indoors, the Broadway boutique’s walls are covered with backlit wallpaper imprinted with leafy greens and neon-lit structures like a giant palm tree, which rests in the center. To launch the ongoing installation, cultural authorities AMO’s Samir Bantal, the graffiti artist known as “Stash” and the Noguchi Museum’s Brett Littman were planted front and center to field questions from Hypebeast’s senior creative editor Courtney Kenefick. Attendees sat elbow-to-elbow in the store’s bleacher-like seating, which like the rest of the store had been designed by AMO’s parent company OMA, Rem Koolhaas’ architectural firm.
That was just one of the many examples of intersection of art, fashion and retail that was examined during the conversation. The idea that targeted shoppers would queue up to go to a store essentially to be reminded of the importance of conceptual spaces, in-store experiences, human contact and digital disengagement was best described by one Millennial’s assessment. “Brilliant,” she told a friend, when asked what she thought of the discussion.
Point taken. And after all was said and done, most of the audience headed for the bar, where many had connected earlier. The diverse turnout comes at a pivotal time for Prada, which is moving on from a few racially insensitive gaffes. And with new co-creative director Raf Simons on board, the company inevitably aims to usher in a wider base of clients. Thursday’s talk encompassed all sorts of synergies that Prada — and many other retailers — are after. Batel recalled how OMA’s objective in the Nineties in designing the store was one that would “accommodate different types of settings and different types of activities, not only pure retail, but as you see here live events, performances and something that is much more connected to cultures than simply retail.”
And “Hyper Leaves” stemmed partially from AMO’s research for “Countryside, the Future,” a new exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The show examines how urban-focused living has affected the 98 percent of the earth’s surface that is not occupied by cities. Prada’s Beverly Hills store also has Hyper Leaves, and the forestry installation will be unveiled at its Miami location. Such attractions are meant to entice shoppers, which panelists agreed are beneficial to all.
Stash said, “I wish there would be more people in stores. There’s too much online, there’s too much electronic versus the interaction between the customer and the people who are selling the stuff. Because of the Internet and the electronic world that we live in, you can bypass that. That was the best part of the hunt — finding something that you were really excited about, finding like-minded people to share it with, finding that hotspot, the store, little mom-and-pop boutiques. That changed a bit with society, with the city. I’d like to see it slow down a bit. There is no more heritage — everything is so subject to change. Everything is too quick. It needs to come back to the days when we appreciated things and not always the next, the next…”
Littman described how the artist and sculptor Noguchi was interested in the space in between an object of art and the person looking at it. Working on sets with choreographer Martha Graham in the Thirties, Noguchi “spent a lot of time looking at dancers’ feet and how they touched the floor, that influenced his work. He’s interested in the idea of very simple things like how one holds a baby or how giraffes might kiss or how a giraffe drinks water. The Rudder table is based on a giraffe drinking water — that shape.”
Littman said. “He was also interested in chairs where you had to adjust your body to sit. He wasn’t interested in things that were stable.…For Noguchi, everything revolves around this experience of how the body interacts with space and with objects.”
As for how a retail space could be informed by that way of thinking, Littman singled out Comme des Garçons’ Meatpacking District sore with its oversize door and OMA’s black diamond library in Seattle that has a different color on every floor to evoke different feelings. In the retail space, it may be more about the size and scale of rooms. How do you display? How are you going to think through the interaction between people? How do you move people through things? The Ikea model is the maze, which I don’t particularly like. Bed, Bath & Beyond — I hate those stores, where you have to go down and you can’t find your way back up. But that is a retail strategy.”
Littman was more impressed with architect Terunobu Fujimori’s recent design for a store where hangers and racks are made from trees so that everything hangs on branches. “And all of the displays are made out of mud. It’s a totally different feel,” he said.
Stash spoke of working on the Recon brand and its first store. “We used aluminum diamond plate floors, razor-wire, barbed wire — we set the style about who we were and expressed ourselves without any boundaries. We weren’t told, ‘You can’t do it this way.’ It was a much different landscape back then. It was about pioneering and doing things a bit different.”
Asked if that kind of scrappiness or grass roots can exist today, the artist said, “I don’t know. The world seems to be based on analytics and numbers with everybody looking down [at smartphones] before they even engage or make eye contact. And I get it — I live like that. I try not to, but I find myself falling back into what’s happening around me.…People are like, ‘Yeah, right, hang on a minute.’ I know I’m doing it, too. It’s just become the norm.'”
Kenefick said, “You borrowed my charger earlier.”
Stash said, “I did borrow your charger. I couldn’t breathe. My battery was going. And we had no signal. I still had to charge my phone.”
He continued, “A lot of better things come, when we engage as humans and not through a device,” adding how many businesses, friendships and collaborations developed among people, who met on lines for sneaker drops. Stash said, “So many great relationships are built from this interaction with each other. It’s not that hard.”
Asked during the post-talk Q&A what will become of multisensory conceptual spaces like the Prada store in the next five to 10 years in this age of ever-distractedness, reduced corporate manpower and budget cuts, Bantal said, “If you have the answer to that, you’ll be a billionaire. The retail industry used to change every 10 years then it moved to five years and now it’s every two years or maybe down to every month. There is really nice brand from [South] Korea called Gentle Monster who basically have their space change every few months. And these are serious, serious installations — complete redoing — like art installations. Where we used to have stores that all looked the same, they just offered something else. We now have an enormous cloud of typologies and varieties.”