This summer the competition to create the most epic ‘bricks’ experience got hotter with the arrival of South Korean sunglass brand Gentle Monsters in Argyll Street, London. Gentle Monster takes the idea of immersive shopping to a whole other level, with each of the brand’s stores around the world taking on its own story concept. And in London, that concept is… Kung Fu aliens (we kid you not) – the story being that a robot alien landed on Earth, became captivated by the beauty of Kung Fu and took it back to its own planet. So far, so nuts.
Walking into the store is like walking into an elaborate film set or exhibition, and a pretty bonkers one at that. Customers are greeted by a tribe of larger than life, kinetic aliens who, as a colleague explained, are ‘training in Kung Fu’. They’re doing this to a backdrop of a digital waterfall and a giant ceremonial gong, which goes off every 7 minutes as their cue to start training.
The eccentric idea continues on the lower ground floor at the ‘battleground’, where two giant kinetic aliens fight in a bamboo forest surrounded by an audience of smaller robots, cheerleading with glittering pom poms in their hands.
It’s totally amazing, impressive… and also rather bemusing. Because what on earth (sorry) does it have to do with sunglasses?! Well, seemingly nothing. Many retailers incorporate exhibition-style experiences into their store but usually it’s to aid sales, or at least related to the product in some way.
Nike is a great case in point, with an almost permanent exhibition area in Nike Town in which it borrows display techniques from gallery spaces to showcase its product and behind-the-scenes work (if you haven’t done so already, check out the current exhibition at London’s Oxford Circus which shows off the work of the motion graphics designers behind its latest projects).
Other brands align themselves to those in the arena of culture and art, seeing a symmetry between the two which will interest their customer demographic – like COS. Having established a legacy of artist collaborations which celebrate the brand’s influences from design and architecture, it’s soon to open a brand new hybrid concept store in London’s glossiest new shopping district, Coal Drop Yard in Kings Cross. Here, customers will not only be able to browse and buy from its latest clothing collections, but also immerse themselves in the work of established and emerging artists.
Both Nike and COS incorporate exhibitions into their stores in a way that feels seamless, credible and intrinsic to their brand essence. Also, they’re integrated in a way that keeps the customer in the store, whiling away hours, potentially leading to more sales. Gentle Monster on the other hand, doesn’t appear to use its concept as a sales tool at all. In fact the product – sunglasses – feels quite removed from the idea – aliens. And interestingly, it feels removed physically too, with the sunglasses themselves displayed around the perimeter of the store… presumably so that the theatrics are left to shine in all their eccentric glory. The thing is, when we were there, we didn’t actually see anyone trying the product on. Any customers that were in the store seemed to be there to get that perfect shareable shot … and, pic filtered and posted, they left. Gentle Monster may have turned its store into the perfect Instagram set, and in that way is bound to drive footfall, but will it actually sell enough product to sustain the cost of a bricks and mortar store in one of the country’s prime shopping districts? Time will tell… but one thing’s for sure, it’s awesome, original and creating a LOT of attention, and that is surely great for the reputation of any brand.