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Crystal Houses in Amsterdam - home of Chanel

Architecture as Luxury Branding

22. 08. 16   :   The Epistle

As consumers become ever more savvy and discerning, luxury retailers are finding new, innovative ways to differentiate themselves and develop their brand identity. Increasingly, one of the ways they achieve this is by commissioning high-profile architects to design striking, unusual and often ground-breaking flagship stores whose architecture reflects their brand’s ethos and exudes a sense of exclusivity and prestige.

Creating an emotional connection with customers is key to building brand loyalty. As consumers, we want to be drawn in and seduced by what’s on offer; we want to feel special. An inspiring building in a prestigious location engages the consumer in ways an internet shopping experience cannot. The most innovative names in luxury retail recognise that the purpose of a physical retail space is no longer merely to sell products; it is also a powerful and highly visible brand ambassador.

This approach to brand identity has led to the appearance of some iconic buildings. Whether they are new builds or historical buildings that have been reinvented, the architecture of these luxury retail stores demonstrates a sensitivity to the heritage of their surroundings while also reflecting the trailblazing, trendsetting nature of their occupants.

Herzog & de Meuron’s Prada building in Tokyo was highly unconventional when it was built 13 years ago. It was one of the buildings that marked a shift in the concept of what a luxury retail space could be and inspired other luxury retailers to turn to big-name architects.

Prada building in Tokyo
Prada Aoyama, Tokyo. Architect: Herzog & de Meuron. Photo: Mike Murry / CC BY-SA
Inside of Prada in Tokyo
Prada Aoyama, Tokyo (as above). Photo: Prada

Crystal Houses in Amsterdam was designed by MVRDV and now houses Chanel. The company used pioneering technology to rebuild the traditional façade out of glass bricks that cleverly mimic the original detailing. Halfway up the building, the glass seems to dissolve into the original brickwork. We love the way this design balances tradition with modernity, respecting the local vernacular while at the same time transforming it into something truly beautiful, inventive and contemporary.

Crystal Houses in Amsterdam - home of Chanel
Crystal Houses, Amsterdam. Architect: MVRDV. Photo: © Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee
Crystal Houses, Amsterdam. Architect: MVRDV Photo: © Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee
Crystal Houses (as above). Photo: © Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

The world’s most valuable brand, Apple, has succeeded in creating such strong customer loyalty that they will queue overnight to be among the first to own one of its products. Its stores have played a defining role in this success – they are products in and of themselves. While its competitors sell via third-party tech stores or online, Apple continues to invest in some of the most expensive and high-profile real estate in the world, using top architects to create spaces that reflect the company’s forward-thinking ethos. As a result, the brand has become part of the public consciousness.

Its new store in San Francisco, which opened just two months ago, was designed by Foster + Partners. The frontage, which consists of 6m x 12.8m glass sliding doors, enables ‘new levels of transparency, openness and civic generosity,’ according to the Foster + Partners website.

Apple Store in Union Square, San Francisco
Apple Store, Union Square, San Francisco. Architect: Foster + Partners. Photo: © Nigel Young/Foster + Partners

Paul Smith’s flagship store in Mayfair has a patterned iron façade with a textured, interlocking circle design that merges seamlessly into the balustrade above. Designed by 6a Architects, the overall aesthetic is contemporary but also subtly references the cast-iron railings, gratings, balconies and lamp posts that are part of the area’s Georgian architecture.

Paul Smith flagship store in Albemarle St, London
Paul Smith, Albemarle Street, London. Architect: 6a Architects. Photo: Paul Smith
Close-up of ironwork on facade of Paul Smith flagship store in London
Paul Smith, Albemarle Street (as above). Photo: Paul Smith

Valentino’s New York flagship was designed by David Chipperfield Architects. The revamp of a Fifth Avenue former department store included the addition of a new eight-storey façade in black steel and aluminium that echoes Mies van der Rohe’s nearby Seagram Building. The interior is a combination of Venetian and Palladiana terrazzo that reflects Valentino’s focus on classical style and craftsmanship.

Valentino store in New York, designed by David Chipperfield
Valentino, New York. Architect: David Chipperfield Architects. Photo: David Chipperfield Architects
Terrazzo interior of Valentino store, NY
The interior of Valentino (as above). Photo: David Chipperfield Architects

Swiss watch brand Hublot’s tall, slim New York flagship was designed by Peter Marino. His intention was to create an aesthetic that took its cues from the luxury products sold inside. The façade is clad with hundreds of powder-coated black aluminium panels, some of which are edged with LED lights. ‘The sculptural movement inherent in the façade is an abstract notion of time and the perpetual mechanism of the watch,’ he explained when the store opened.

Sublet building in New York, designed by Peter Marino
Hublot, New York. Architect: Peter Marino. Photo: © Adrian Wilson for Hublot