& Other Stories cofounders Sara Hildén-Bengtsson and Helena Carlberg have launched Open Studio, which designs, directs and executes retail concepts. They’re joined at the Stockholm creative agency by Eva Aggerborg, former design director of DDB Design.
Hildén-Bengtsson, creative director, and Carlberg, head of digital communications, set the tone for & Other Stories’ aesthetic, including store design, ad campaigns and packaging. Founded in 2013, & Other Stories operates 36 stores worldwide.
Open Studio was created to bridge the gap between brands’ digital and physical presences. It designs experiences consumers will remember long after a transaction has been completed, often using non-traditional methods. The key is consistency across channels — physical stores, digital commerce, social media and pop-ups — Hildén-Bengtsson said.
“Our goal is to find customized ways to tell brand stories in brave, heartfelt and memorable ways,” Hildén-Bengtsson said. “Consumers want more of a human connection to a brand. They want to get to know all its dimensions, just like a real person. They want to follow the brand as it grows and changes over time. All this requires a new level of authenticity and creativity.”
At & Other Stories, this was achieved through store design that preserved the integrity of the existing retail space, stripping it down to its original skeleton to reveal hard wood floors and elaborate ceilings, for example. The stores’ fixtures have wheels so that the spaces “evolve” each time they’re reconfigured. The brand also collaborated with artists such as Satoshi Kawamoto, a floral designer from Green Finger, who created an installation at the Fifth Avenue store using dried and partially dried flowers, leaves, twigs and branches.
After a decade working with & Other Stories, Hildén-Bengtsson said she felt a void in the market for a creative studio that could forge relationships between brands and consumers. “I was creating a whole brand, [& Other Stories,] which was fascinating. But there weren’t many agencies with the right competencies. I was longing for a studio that had those abilities and was fun to work with.”
Open Studio isn’t only about pretty faces and beautiful interiors, however, the agency is focussed on sales-driving tactics, Hildén-Bengtsson said, adding that clients include artists, start-ups and large global brands. “We’re working as consultants to H&M Group and & Other Stories,” she said. “We’ve had some interesting discussions.”
“We’re looking at the collaborations that brands want to do,” said Hildén-Bengtsson, citing & Other Stories’ history of partnerships such Iris Apfel, Rodarte, Hari Nef, Amos Mac and Lena Dunham, among others. “That will continue at Open Space. Brands are all talking about collaborations in one way or another. I don’t think consumers are getting tired of them.”
Departing & Other Stories was a fraught decision, Hildén-Bengtsson said. “I’ve been part of creating all the visual material and branding. It’s like a baby.”
But Hildén-Bengtsson isn’t overly nostalgic. Her philosophy, and that of Open Studio, is that no work is considered so precious that it can’t be altered. “Consumers want to see how brands adapt to different environments and seasons,” she said.