How do you attract jaded online consumers back to traditional bricks-and-mortar retailing? By using the power of design, as Shanghai-based Aim Architecture has done for an online cosmetics brand in Hong Kong, to offer a powerful sensory experience that digital consumption can’t match.
“Consumers want convenience but crave experience,” says the architecture firm, which is led by Wendy Saunders and Vincent de Graaf. “Online shopping will never lose its allure, but there’s a real challenge for brands to experiment with the dynamics of modern consumption.”
In response to that challenge, the second retail outlet for online beauty brand Harmay (Aim also designed its first store, in Shanghai, two years ago) marries the visual cues and orderliness of online shopping with the intrigue and delight of an updated old-school apothecary.
Located on a narrow, winding street in Hong Kong’s bustling Sheung Wan district, the new Harmay outlet covers 141 square metres over two floors, its perforated-steel façade, illuminated by LED lighting, offering only a hint of the austere yet surprising environment inside.
“Walking up towards the second floor, space is left untouched, as found,” say the architects. “It is rough and even raw to the senses, immersing you in the tactile experience of traditional shopping.”
Once clients arrive on the shop floor itself, however, they enter a kind of ultra-contemporary funhouse marked by mirrored stainless-steel cabinets suspended from the ceiling, the units’ reflective surfaces masquerading their existence. Here, subtle signage directs visitors to open, rubber-lined drawers containing Harmay’s myriad products.
The process, says the company, creates “a powerful dialogue” and “an intimacy with the products, placing them straight into the hands of our shoppers.”
The illusory feel of the retail space is also echoed in a stainless-steel powder room featuring a glass wall that might have users second guessing its function, but also a “well-placed curtain” that provides ultimate privacy, “leaving just feet exposed.
In crowded Hong Kong, where space is at a premium, many shops can feel decidedly cramped. Despite its relatively small size, however, the Harmay outlet’s two floors, say the architects, “are spatially connected through the omnipresent rough brick walls, the concrete ceilings and the continuous floor,” which combine to create another illusion, this time of expansiveness.
Overall, the store’s unusual marriage of playfulness and practicality makes it a destination – one that, the design team feels, serves as an antidote to impersonal digital transactions.
Juxtaposing raw walls and concrete ceilings with half-hidden mirrored-steel cabinets, Harmay’s latest retail outlet was designed as a space for exploring.