5-S Retail: The Multi-Sensory Experience

The New York Times: “Museums usually aim to offer a feast for the eyes, but this Detroit museum had much more in mind for ‘Bitter|Sweet: Coffee, Tea & Chocolate,’ which just closed at the institute. Officials, who used art objects to illustrate how the introduction of those beverages to Europe in the 16th century from Africa, Asia and the Americas changed social and consumption patterns, wanted the exhibition to be a banquet for all five senses.”

“Other art institutions are experimenting, too. For instance, when the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., presented ‘Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age’ last year, visitors were invited to touch a fine translucent porcelain piece imported from China, and to imagine the novelty that the 17th-century Dutch must have experienced … Some museum leaders view these offerings as a way to attract younger audiences who are steeped in multisensory experiences and to deepen the engagement with the art objects for everyone. But others see them as distractions.”

“Going further takes much more thought, and many agree that the decision is best driven by an exhibition’s subject … Martina Bagnoli of the Galleria Estensi in Modena, Italy, writes: “Medieval images and objects were made to speak to all the senses — not sight alone. They were not only seen, but also, and at the same time, touched, tasted, smelled and heard.”


Concept Stores: Retail in Real Life

Quartz: “From Story in New York to Merci in Paris, the well-curated “concept store” has become the shopper’s favourite around the world, blurring the lines between the retail space and the cafe, with elements of an art gallery or a design studio in between. In these stores, customers are invited to spend time in the space, beyond just buying a product, and that approach is gradually spreading through India, too.”

“Take Nicobar, the breezy apparel and home decor offshoot of Good Earth that launched last year … Inside, the customer is greeted with a breath of fresh air and an island vibe, fitting with the brand’s design ethos, as well as a small collection of seasonally-appropriate minimalist clothing, alternating with quirky accessories and home decor items … A giant communal table dominates the upper level of the space, where customers are encouraged to take a seat to work, chat or just read a book from the curated selection on the shelve … A small desk lined with postcards and stationery sits next to a working postbox, so you can send friends a little note while shopping. And there’s also a photo booth, equipped with funky backdrops, for visitors to pose with the clothing of their choice.”

Nappa Dori “operates six stores, including a 1,200-square feet space in Mumbai’s Colaba neighbourhood. Here, pop-coloured trunks, leather satchels, and travel accessories are artfully arranged front and centre, but the space also has a coffee corner serving fresh brews, and a spot for customers to sit and peruse the selection of books and indie magazines on offer … While Nappa Dori’s products are available for sale on its website, Sinha says 90% of its business comes from its stores.”


Haitians Fashion Boots from Bottles

Fast Company: “A new backpack started life as 7.5 plastic bottles trashed on streets in Haiti. The backpack—part of a new line of boots, bags, and t-shirts made by Timberland—looks like it’s made from canvas. But the material is 50% recycled plastic, sourced from a place that both has excess trash and a desperate need for jobs.”

“The process to turn a bottle into fabric is fairly simple: the plastic is mechanically broken down into flakes, put through something that looks like a Play-Doh extruder, and then rolled and manipulated into bales that can be spun into fabric. Plastic bottles are made from oil; so is polyester. When a bottle is recycled into fabric, the end result looks the same as if it had come from fossil fuels (it can also be recycled into other products, such as printer cartridges).”

“The company began working in Haiti in part because it’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It spent two years studying existing recycling systems and setting up a program that would fill in the gaps, rather than competing with local business. The team now wants to repeat the process in other countries.”


Edible Regimen: Food as Beauty Products

The Wall Street Journal: “A blurring of the lines between food and beauty products has some shoppers raiding their kitchen cabinets to replace everything from blush and lip plumper to deodorant and conditioner. The trend has people rubbing mayonnaise in their hair, lemon juice in their armpits and pork fat on their face. Erica Strauss said she buys a pig every year from a local farmer in Seattle. In addition to cooking chops and roast, the 37-year-old chef renders the fat into lard for use on her hands and face … Other animal grease can also be used to substitute for hand cream, though she doesn’t recommend bacon.” She explains: “It’s way too smelly. Every dog in the neighborhood will come up and lick you.”

“The idea of using edibles in a beauty regimen dates back centuries. Cleopatra is believed to have bathed in milk. Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have washed herself in white wine. The Romans and Greeks doused their bodies in olive oil. In a memorable scene from the 1993 movie Mrs. Doubtfire, actor Robin Williams dunks his face into meringue cake to mask his identity as a man.”

“Beauty companies, too, are blurring the lines between kitchen and bath. They tout food ingredients on the labels of everything from shampoo to nail polish. Some are putting makeup in containers that resemble condiment jars or making creams that look like hors d’oeuvres … Organic beauty companies insist that using food isn’t as easy as rubbing apple juice on your face … Faz Abdul Gaffa has learned the hard way. She tried rubbing turmeric on her face after hearing about its skin-brightening qualities. She ended up with yellow stained palms for several days.” And her face? “I looked jaundiced,” she said.


Bulgari, Baccarat & The Hoteling of Retail

The New York Times: “The convergence of hotels and merchandise started, perhaps unsurprisingly, at luxury properties. Almost two years ago, Baccarat, a French crystal manufacturer, opened a 50-story building with a hotel and apartments across the street from the Museum of Modern Art, six blocks from its Manhattan flagship store. Crystal designs are displayed in public areas. Guests can order from the display and have their purchases shipped to their homes, saving time and a trip to the retail store. Select guest room entrances exhibit art inspired by crystal pieces.”

“Bulgari, an Italian designer of jewelry, watches and leather goods, has properties in Bali, Milan and London. Hotels in Shanghai, Beijing and Dubai are expected to open by the end of the year. The hotel website links to an online store … Tommy Hilfiger, whose designs include apparel, luggage and linens sold at Macy’s, Kohl’s and online, purchased the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach in 2014 and is developing it in conjunction with the Dogus Group, a Turkish conglomerate.”

“West Elm, a division of Williams-Sonoma that sells modern furniture and accessories online and in nearly 90 stores nationwide, has created model hotel rooms.” Stephani Robson of Cornell “said she expected that West Elm was hoping to reach beyond existing customers.” She observes: “A brand like West Elm can signal ‘our brand is experiential’ — reinforce positioning for customers not familiar with the brand.”


Sensory Memories: Smells Like Olfactory History

The New York Times: “Over the past year, a Columbia University preservation expert and a curator at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan have been engaged in an unusual poetic-scientific experiment in the little-visited olfactory wing of history, trying to pin down the powerful connection between smell and memory — in this case, collective memory … Their goal is perhaps someday to be able to convey a sense of the building’s history beyond just its look and feel. Their primary tool is a sampling device that looks like a contraption out of Jules Verne: a crystalline dome with plastic tubing snaking from its side.”

“The sampler is placed gently on objects — rare books, furniture, carpets — to capture the escaping molecules that create a distinct smell … Carlos Benaim, a master perfumer … said that the thousands of molecules that were trapped in the glass-bell sampler would be categorized to determine which of them constitutes the smell profile of objects and surfaces from the Morgan … The project, which drew attention after an article in the art blog Hyperallergic, may end up some day recreating these smells as a way to help visitors experience the library in a different way, possibly through an olfactory exhibition or sensory gallery.”

Jorge Otero-Pailos, professor and director of historic preservation at Columbia, explains: “In the end, we’re after meaning, historical meaning, cultural meaning and how to do that is something we hope to figure out.”


Bayou Teche Brews Cajun-Style Beer

The New York Times: “Run by Karlos Knott … Bayou Teche Brewing is an eight-year-old family-owned operation … Mr. Knott and his brothers, Byron, 52, and Dorsey, 47, produce 200 barrels of beer a week, much of it intended to go with the foods they grew up eating: gumbo made with a dark Cajun roux, jambalaya and smoked meats, fried Gulf shrimp and fist-size oysters and butter-mounted crawfish étouffée served over local rice simmered with more butter and bay leaves.”

“While most American beers are made as stand-alone drinks … Bayou Teche takes its cues from the French and Belgian farmhouse traditions, in which beers are meant to be served at the table as part of a meal … In addition to their regular roster of about a dozen craft ales, the Knott brothers also make two only-in-Acadiana spring specials. One is for the Courir de Mardi Gras, the old Cajun version of the holiday celebrated in towns throughout the region on Fat Tuesday … The beer is wheaty, slightly hoppy and high-alcohol … it pairs well with the complex flavors of a gumbo … The other Bayou Teche spring ale is made to go with the crawfish that appear January through June.”

“Many of the special beers the brothers have produced over the years incorporate southern Louisiana ingredients, like local raw sugar, rice and hot peppers. Not all have worked — most notably a beer called Shrimp and Grits that actually incorporated hominy grits and shellfish. Mr. Knott comments: “The beer tasted good, but it smelled like old shrimp.” He also says: “We like to think of ourselves as a big stop sign. To stop and have an appreciation about what we have that’s different, to not try to emulate other places and to not try to be like the rest of the country.”


The Yeti ‘Museum’: Cool Retail for Cool Coolers

Fast Company: “Yeti makes coolers. They’re very good coolers—they can keep ice for longer than the competition, they’re very sturdy, they can survive being mauled by a bear … but ultimately, they’re still just coolers … when it came time to launch their first retail store, the goal was less ‘find a way to sell a lot of coolers to people who come inside’ and more ‘create a permanent brand activation that allows people to interact with Yeti in ways that they’ll hopefully take with them in the future’ … while you can buy a cooler there, the space was created with that being a secondary—or maybe even tertiary—goal.”

Corey Maynard, Yeti’s Vice President of Marketing, explains: “Yes, we’re selling coolers, and you can get drinkware and shirts and hats and stuff, but it was much more important to us that people could have fun with the Yeti brand and see it brought to life in the three-dimensional world than just be a place that’s driven by transaction … What they came up with very much feels like a museum, complete with a variety of displays and marquee exhibits … There’s a boating exhibit, featuring a skiff built by angler fisherman Flip Pallot … complete with taxidermy redfish, stingrays, brown shrimp, blue crabs, and more. The BBQ exhibit features the backyard BBQ pit of legendary Austin pitmaster Aaron Franklin.”

“That approach folds into the retail displays, too. The display for the Tundra—Yeti’s signature cooler—features half of a pickup truck, so visitors can get a feel for how much space a cooler takes up in a truck bed, and what it’s like to lift it up and put it in there. The Rambler display, which shows off the brand’s drink ware, is housed in a giant replica of what you’d see if you cut a Rambler mug in half.” Says Maynard: “I like to think of it as like a children’s museum for Yeti, where there’s a lot of fun things that you can read, play with, and interact with.”


Footwear: How Saks Attracts Men

The New York Times: “Next week, Saks will open its first free-standing store specially for men, in Brookfield Place, the retail, office and dining complex in Lower Manhattan … The 16,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Store will include leather and shoe repair services, made-to-measure suits and a tech bar selling the latest gadgets … In the spring, an in-house Sharps barbershop and Fika coffee shop will be added. And a monthly rotating pop-up shop will feature, in the opening weeks, 200 styles of sneakers, 40 of which are Saks exclusives.”

Saks President Marc Metrick explains: “Footwear is a gateway drug.”

“Saks is luring the stylish new man with a palette of whites, taupes and silvers and chevron-patterned porcelain flooring. Gone is the brown-wood, Morton’s steakhouse look of the uptown men’s department. The vibe is not unlike the Saks women’s store at the opposite end of the complex.”