Following a run of accomplished hospitality and adaptive re-use projects, award-winning Shanghai-based studio Atelier tao+c’s first foray into small-scale retail is by far its boldest work yet. In the southeastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, the young firm channelled its newly won creative freedom into a flagship store for emerging watch assembly brand MOMIC. The result is an invigorating shot of retrofuturism as assured as it is playful.
Tao Liu and Chunyan Cai, the five-year-old practice’s founding partners and lead designers, describe how the luminous white walls, sleek grey marble floor and lightly concaved mirrored ceiling reflect their wish for the compact 96-square-metre store’s boundaries to “blur and disappear.” This evanescent backdrop serves to reinforce the weight of the six thickset white-, emerald- and honeydew-coloured marble, metal and acrylic display cases (what the pair call “props”) that guide the shopping experience in a way that’s uncluttered, streamlined and — most importantly — fun.
At the same time, smooth pillars and flashes of neon reinforce a sense of ludic refinement, their contrasting styles taking inspiration from the merchandise on view. “We aspired to convey the contradictions of the watch as an antique tool and accessory through delicate material selection,” Liu and Cai explain, pointing to how phones have largely stripped watches of their fundamental purpose over the past 20 years.
“The acrylic brings in a sense of futurism,” the designers add, “while the marble represents tradition and the blue metal shelving is the illustration of modern industrial.” This collision of earthy and clinical, cold and bright harkens back to Memphis design and is intended to both inspire the DIY selection of straps and dials by customers and to challenge “the perception of time and memory,” just as the Italy-born movement defied design norms through anachronistic mash-ups. It’s all a refreshing update on the often stuffy exercise of buying a watch in a space that rewards those who take the time to explore.
In the award-winning Chinese studio’s latest retail project for MOMIC, graphic forms and rich materials define a spartan shopping experience.