Bonsoir Paris, which launched in Paris in 2010, is composed of just 10 creatives (including a producer, a design director, art directors and architects), but its lean team has worked to its advantage: “We’ve got a smaller scale capability to jump from one thing to another,” said Ben Sandler, the design studio’s managing director and photographer, who joined forces with founders Rémy Clémente and Morgan Maccari in 2012.
In recent years, such “things” have included creating in-store spaces for Nike, Hermès and Lacoste; developing interactive furniture in collaboration with Intel (an air piano” for a Sid Lee showcase); producing editorial spreads and videos for i-D and Wallpaper magazines; designing sets for high-profile runway shows and musical performances (including Rihanna’s backdrop for the 2016 MTV VMAs); and establishing an accessible, comfortable VR experience for a local cinema.
According to Sandler, each of the Bonsoir Paris’s projects has been chosen strategically: “We did the VR project for scale and ingenuity; Nike we did for pushing the envelope; with Hermès, we wanted to explore new ground; Sid Lee is a great supporter and collaborator; and working with Rihanna was just cool.”
On a Skype call from Paris, Sandler explained what exactly his studio does every day, how it got into the fashion game and what he believes is in store for the in-store experience.
How would you describe Bonsoir Paris? I know you’re more than a retail studio…
It’s not our intention to focus just on fashion. I guess, given what we do, we tend to touch on it — and also, the creative possibilities with brands like Hermès and Nike are quite enticing for creatives like ourselves. We’re more of a creative platform, rather than a traditional ad agency or a traditional design studio, and retail is one of our focus areas. All of our projects are anchored in the design world — they include product and space design, image making and graphic design — so we really find ourselves sitting somewhere in the middle, between fashion, design and lifestyle.
The set design for Rihanna’s 2016 MTV VMAs performance, by Bonsoir Paris
Considering they’re not your main focus, why do you think so many retailers come to you?
I think it’s our willingness to break the rules a little bit. We’re a bit of an outlier — it’s not something we do every day — and we challenge the notions of what a traditional retail experience is. It’s also our focus on delivery: Most of our projects are ones that we consult on, design and actually produce with our network. We experiment with the best material for the context and investigate techniques that will optimize things. I think it’s this methodology that makes clients come back.
So, what is your specialty?
We like to tell stories, no matter the medium — it’s what connects all that we do. The vehicle doesn’t matter, as long as that story is coherent. We also try to tell a story in a similar matter; often times, we’ll bring together contrasting ideas: For Selfridges, we focused on marble and inflatables, which have nothing to do with each other. It’s that marriage that makes it interesting.
It seems that would easily translate to fashion campaigns and runway shows.
A few season back, we were asked to produce and concept a set for a press presentation and also a VIP show for Sonia Rykiel. The thought behind them was very similar to what we’re used to: How do you tell a story in a short time that doesn’t overshadow the collection that accompanies it and also provides something enchanting for spectators, who are going to be seeing many others the same week? We haven’t shot a high-fashion campaign, but we’d definitely pursue it if the opportunity came through.
As you see it, what is the role of a brick-and-mortar store today?
Going into a brick-and-mortar store today requires some definite interest on the part of the consumer, given the accessibility and wider availability of options. People want to be wowed; they want to go somewhere and live something else. That’s where we can come in, to create these physical connectors. When you’re ushering people in and out, they may not be able to experience who you are beyond the bag you’re selling them. What’s important is that you keep them interested; it’s more of a long-term approach: To invest in that physical experience is to invest in the consumer.
What project are you most proud of?
Nike is one of those brands creatives like us want to work for; they’re pushing the envelope, and they’re particularly interested in leveraging technology, creativity, and art. We worked on a 360-degree campaign with the Nike Lab team, and that involved designing an event, working on the retail concept for pop-ups that showed up in all of the Nike stores and producing a photo campaign. It really showed the breadth of our studio. Since then, we’ve worked with them on a few other projects. It’s important as an agency to have repeat customers, especially one as esteemed as Nike.
An Hermès window design by Bonsoir Paris
Has your work with retailers helped to boost sales?
I think our success is just about bringing strategic understanding to a brand. Naturally, that’s going to be conducive to sales. When we work on a space, we want to make sure you’re not going to be bogged down — we remove the layers and allow people to enjoy a brand, a space without intrusion. We’ve had positive reviews in the past, and we hope it’s because of our thinking, and it’s something that we try to refine each time. We’ve never received comments that our designs have made a retailer lose sales.
What are some examples of tech you’ve incorporated into stores?
We did kinetic sculptures — which are programmed and motorized installations — for Hermès, both Amsterdam and Dubai, and we did them for Nike in Paris. And we’ve worked with VR and 3D printing. Recently, we did an interactive project for a luxury house that I’m not able to say quite yet. Some of these projects are focused on content, others are experiential. We’re always trying to find ways to use technology to enchant, not just to use it.
Using technology for the sake of technology is definitely prevalent.
There’s a desire to leverage technology or bring in something interactive, as it’s memorable and can wow — and that inclination is as justified as anything on a bandwagon. But the only thing that will last is the technology that has disrupted or augmented an experience. We’ve been contacted to do an augmented running experience for Nike, and that’s awesome; it has a real purpose. There are two sides of the spectrum: one is of actual utility and an experience, and the other is trend — and we all know where that goes.
What’s next for Bonsoir Paris?
We’ve been really interested in invisible technology, particularly the Internet of Things — how these tiny little sensors can be embedded into fabrics and trigger an experience. We have a lab at our studio that we’re using to experiment with design and what’s out there today, and what’s coming up, and how to integrate that into our process. Technology is definitely part of our road map and where we’re headed.