From the iconic Colette in Paris, which closed in 2017 after the retirement of its founder, to the more recent Boon the Shop in Seoul, for decades, commercial ventures have been challenging the rapid and ephemeral nature of shopping and pushing for a more evocative and memorable experience. We are talking about concept stores – much more than simple stores.
In concept stores, objects aren’t merely showcased; they’re interpreted, narrated, and experienced within an atmosphere that fosters discovery and appreciation for their uniqueness and the creativity they embody. They are true trend incubators, expressing cultural narratives deeply rooted in their local context and identity. For instance, a concept store in Paris could never be placed in Mexico City or Tokyo, and vice versa. Here, the value of each object is determined not only by their individual merit but also by its harmonious integration with other items and its surroundings.
It was Mary Quant, in her early twenties, who envisioned the first concept store model. In 1955, even before she became famous for the miniskirt, the mid-20th-century London fashion icon opened the Bazaar on King’s Road. Furnished by designer Terence Conran, the space quickly became a hotspot for art, music, and design enthusiasts. But it was Ralph Lauren who in 1986 defined the new concept of retail space we know today. Within an old neo-Renaissance building in New York City, he created a space where customers could immerse themselves in an experience that combined the exceptional with the familiar. Charles Fagan, Ralph Lauren’s chief of staff, recalls the designer’s words on opening day, “New York can be a hostile place, and I want people to come in here and feel your warmth, as if you were inviting them into your home.” The decor was a “second home” for celebrities. Fagan recalls Jackie Onassis’s and Audrey Hepburn’s private visits but stresses that the space attracted everyone, not just the rich and famous.