On Monday, Zara posted a TikTok video of its Soho storefront in NYC, featuring what appeared to be a digital art installation serving as a window display. It’s since been viewed more than 12 million times, and earned Zara a record number of likes (700,000) and shares (41,000) among its TikTok posts. Included in the 6,000 comments are several iterations of, “I will go there tomorrow, it’s beautiful.”
However, anyone who followed through with that plan was no doubt disappointed; one LinkedIn user commented on one of the shared posts with, “It got me down there! Then I realized it was just a TikTok!” There’s no physical counterpart to Zara’s TikTok; the company commissioned the featured artwork exclusively for social media, said Shane Fu, the motion design artist behind it. Zara didn’t respond to a request for comment.
While it could easily be called misleading — especially considering the caption (“Walking through our Soho store”) and included hashtag: #zarastores — Zara’s captivating post has effectively stirred buzz and worked to attract people to one of its stores. In doing so, it’s brought about a big question about retail’s evolution and direction: Considering the new ease of online shopping and the attention suck that are social platforms, will a store need to provide a museum-like experience to be a draw?
@zaraWalking through our Soho store. Thank you @3dshane ##zarastores♬ sonido original – ZARA
“There are a lot of questions around the true cost of implementing [an installation like Zara posted] and the scalability of it, and whether the post creates a false reality of what is possible,” said Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of retail strategy and design firm The Lionesque Group, an MG2 Company. “But what Zara has done here is continue to push the industry and conversation forward. We’re seeing live validation of the possible ROI around investments into art-and-physical retail because of the instant virality the brand is getting. They’ve activated a fandom.”
Of course, art and fashion retail coming together is nothing new. The two worlds have increasingly intermingled over time, which, to some extent, can be owed to “the Virgil Abloh effect.” The designer has continued to extend his influence over the fashion industry, all the while making an art-led approach his M.O. The Chicago concept store he co-founded in 2019 is named RSVP Gallery. His latest Off-White runway show, for fall 2021, was dubbed “Laboratory of Fun,” calling to mind a trendy museum-funhouse. And an exhibition featuring his work opened in early July at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, after debuting in Chicago in 2019.
As more retailers take inspiration from the art world, they’re inserting art elements that go beyond now-standard sculptures and wall art. For example, late last month, Selfridges revealed a five-ton canvas by artist Osman Yousefzada enveloping the exterior of its Birmingham, U.K. store. And Kith has enlisted design studio Snarkitecture, which has hosted its own immersive art installation in NYC, to give five of its stores a comparable feel. “Kith in Paris is more than a store,” said Matt Rowean, CCO and partner at creative agency Matte Projects. “It’s a combination of elements that form an experience.”
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A pioneer in this space is Seoul-based fashion eyewear brand Gentle Monster, known for its art-filled stores that read like unique exhibits. It currently has 22 flagships, in cities including L.A., London and Dubai, and two more are set to open in the U.S. this year. All of its stores incorporate pieces of kinetic, robotic art that play into an ever-evolving store storyline.
“The design concept of each store is to bring weird amazement to the retail experience,” said David Kim, the company’s director of customer experience. “We want people to remember us by our unique expression of creativity, [and we’re] always working to amaze and inspire.”
As the brand rolls out more stores, the featured art is increasingly infused with technology, said Kim, who called “offline digital” a key element of future retail. What’s more, art elements that link to products are being phased out.
“We’re focused on blurring the line [between] museum and retail,” Kim said. “The [recent] advancements in technology and changes in the way we shop have forced retailers to be more than a store. The experience needs to generate value in itself, but the value must be connected to the brand.”
Inside Gentle Monster’s Santa Clara, California store
Rowean, whose work includes art installations in retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, had a similar viewpoint: “You can get pretty much anything online, so physical space is most valuable as a beacon for the brand. [It should be] something to excite or to convey an emotion, or to push technology.”
Emerging points of reference for retailers are the new immersive art experiences being orchestrated worldwide by multisensory artists and collaboratives. Think: NYC’s Immersive Van Gogh by Massimiliano Siccardi and Tokyo’s Borderless museum by teamLab. Fueled by social media, the digital, 3D worlds have attracted crowds that a lone Instagram wall never could. And they’ve been expanding and attracting investment even during the pandemic. For those embracing the term, it’s proof of the power of “phygital.”
Among retailers taking advantage of the same technologies is experiential toy store Camp. Last week it announced that it will soon debut at its NYC flagship a “Cosmic Camp” experience incorporating AR and projection mapping. It was designed in collaboration with innovation lab Future Colossal, which has carried out an array of immersive exhibitions. Already on the market is Area15, Las Vegas’ art and entertainment complex, which houses retail alongside immersive digital activations. And retailers are set to anchor Meow Wolf Denver, a large-scale interactive exhibit set to open in Colorado this fall.
Fu, who worked with Zara, said other fashion retailers have reached out to him since the storefront post went viral. And, based on the interest, he wants to make fashion a greater focus of his work, moving forward.
The Zara project took Fu about two weeks, from concept to completion. He said bringing the piece to a physical setting would be a lengthy process requiring a large, experienced team. He’s still in talks with Zara, but declined to share details on “TBD” future projects.
Fu guessed that Zara first reached out to him based on his content on TikTok, where he has nearly 300,000 followers. He said the rise of NFTs earlier this year helped him to get noticed across platforms. He currently sells his digital art on the SuperRare marketplace and Foundation app.
According to Neda Whitney, head of marketing at Christie’s America, it would be safe to assume that displayed NFTs will become an in-store trend, as retailers aim to differentiate. “[It would] add to the overall experience and align them with digital innovation,” she said.
“There is even the potential for retailers to have digital artists-in-residence to refresh the in-store experience,” she said, pointing to a practice more typically employed by museums.
Art for art’s sake
Of course, brands and retailers posting inspirational, on-brand artwork in marketing channels is not unusual, as they aim to tap into a lifestyle. Audiences misinterpreting those messages, however, is quite common.
This week alone, in celebration of its 200th anniversary, Louis Vuitton rolled out a series of Instagram posts showcasing artist recreations of its signature trunk. The latest, by student Alyssa Carson, is made up of an abstract representation of deep space. No, it will not be available for purchase.
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And yesterday, Showfields posted photographer and NFT artist Nathan Head’s piece that looks like a rainbow-bright, beachside subway and is dubbed “The Paradise Express.” Among the 20 comments were questions including, “Is this at your shop?” and “Is this in your store?”
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