Teleportation- that's what space offers the mind and body. In regards to fashion, a brand's tangible space acts as a barrier to the reductive label "environmental waste" and becomes a reach that exudes its philosophies while creating core memories for its audiences when that space is shared. It puts a distance between fashion as meer consumerism and puts the experience in a tier of art and intention.
Some data to balance the cerebral: According to the US Department of Commerce Retail Indicator Division, 2021 was one of the most vital years in US retail history. Brick-and-mortar stores outgrew e-commerce for the first time, and physical stores grew by 18.5% versus 14.2% of e-commerce. Pre-pandemic, this number was still 21.9% higher than in 2019, and during the pandemic, when physical contact was discouraged, e-commerces were still only 13.6% of all retail sales (Forbes).
There was a period, similar to publication claims that print is dead, where fashion thought it would lose its brick-and-mortar to e-commerce. But, of course, multi-brand retailers have a proverbial upper hand regarding access and demand. However, could convenience flush out the exclusivity of physical locations and flagship stores?
No matter how intricate online platforms become, with some retailers even transforming their sites into secret societies, much of it sounds like compensation. Think of your last spiritual encounter. Did it happen online or onsite? I'd bet, outside of witnessing the Matrix code, it was a palpable experience that sparked your senses.
The first time I saw a Rothko, I was swept in its violently deep crimsons. So convinced the paint on the canvas was pulled from my flesh- the ingrained memory naturally supersedes any Rothko viewed online or in a book. I found myself in a furious state of drafting poetry note after note. In that overwhelming sense of emotion, space has the same ability in its more subtle yet gradual way— maybe even more.
When Rick Owens moved into the corner of Howard and Crosby Street, something happened to the already staple fashion Soho intersection. Pouring concrete floors to mask any remnants of former tenants, a new temple emerged. And if you've ever wondered what an Owens-gothic era honestly looked and felt like, use this space as a compass, and let your spirit guide the rest.
The chokehold wife and mystic Michelle Lamy have on mixing unexpected materials, footsteps through the first floor are like levitating around entities larger than you but in the form of her 'ritualistic' installations. You enter and silence, not because the air is stiff but because the energy echoes. The garments are momentarily an afterthought as you surrender to the space. Whether or not a purchase is made, an experience like that is far greater than anything monetarily transactional. You leave able to say that you went. You exchange conversations with other people equally invested in the brand as they are philosophy. Maybe it's Owen's attraction to logic and brutalism or Lamy's hypnotic chaos— it's not something to be gained by browsing a collection page on one of your many devices. And with that sentiment, even though space is, the essence is not something tangible that can be replicated, like much of spirituality is.
Many flagships across several brands offer this (not exactly, but you get me). For this reason, discovering the corners of your favorite designers becomes an exhibition one plans their travels around. To study, observe and appreciate the intentional intricacies that make each universe part of a collective whole.
So the question of 'is retail dead?' comes with a two-part answer. For a time, it was; e-commerce came (is still here) and offered buyers convenience and access. Unfortunately, this became overwhelmingly one-dimensional consumerism. But as most metaphysical— there is always, in some form, life after death. Whether the intention or not, retail found a way to cement the need for tangible space and has become a brand haven for creative philosophy.
Text by Shahrnaz Javid