Retail in Asia


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW : brands celebrate Sottsass’ design

Studio Tordiglione

Ettore Sottsass was born in Innsbruck in 1917, and he became one of the most influential Italian architect and designer of the last century. He participated in all radical movements whether created from the 70s and 80s.

In 1981 he founded the Memphis group, a group that has radically changed the scenario of Italian and world design. Honored with numerous international awards, was winner of the Golden Compass in 1959, and he remembered as the designer of the first laptop “Valentina” by Olivetti. He died in 2007 at the age of 90 years.

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For the 100th anniversary of his birth, he was celebrated all over the world, by museums like the MET in NYC, for instance, art galleries and institutions, his students, followers, designers, but also brands and retailers, which add the chance to get his creativity.

During the BODW, Retail in Asia visited Studio Tordiglione Design in the heart of Sheung Wan for the one-off mini-exhibition dedicated to Sottsass’ creations for home with the participation of brands such as Alessi, Kartell, and Artemide.

Retail in Asia met the Creative Director of the Studio, Stefano Tordiglione, the curator of the exhibition, and asked him about the exhibition, but also the role of design in Hong Kong, and its inextricable relationship with retail.

Stefano Tordiglione 2 - Copy
Source : Stefano Tordiglione Design

RiA : You have been living in Hong Kong for 10 years. How have you seen the city changing and how its relationship with design has changed?

Stefano : I have been living in Hong Kong since 2007, actually it was 22 December 2007.  I still remember. Lan Kwai Fong was shocking for me, it was such a crowded area. The city was much different than it is today in terms of urban space and distribution of population. Less foreigners than nowadays, if you only think about Italians and French which I have been interacting with the most, they have doubled in ten years.

Job-wise expats were occupying positions in specific sectors, and disregarding others like F&B, unless they were chef or restaurant managers, while today you find foreigners working as waiters or doormen for hotels as well.

Hong Kong, reminded me New York in 90s, and I still see some similarities in trends and all these ups and downs, which make Hong-Kong one of the cities that people perceive as a cosmopolitan city and full of opportunities.

Of course, that would be a lot to say for sectors such as F&B and finance, but as I am an architect and designer, I will focus on architecture and design.

10 years ago, we were the first Italian studio to open in Soho, while everybody was in Wan Chai. Many of the landmarks which characterize Hong Kong city landscape were not there yet and skyscrapers were mushrooming around very fast.

I have seen many shopping malls popping up, and I wanted to be in the heart of the city to see this change.

In terms of design, nowadays, I feel there is still a need for shaping the culture of embracing beauty, however, I receive requests to renovate apartments that it was not the case in the past. Apartments were rented temporarily and design was the least important component of a flat to be rented. Now, all those old buildings are going through a process of renovation and they need a design approach to create HOME.

As city and design trends have changed, we moved to Sheung Wan area, that now represents the artistic soul of the city with art galleries and many design studios. I have chosen a 3-floor walk-up building with a rooftop as I wanted to abandon the idea of an office and think about a cozy place where to meet clients, but also friends, have lunch or dinner, cooking, and of course working. The larger space allows us to engage with the community as well, as we are able to host exhibitions and events to showcase beauty crafted by different designers, not only ours.

RiA : We are now in your studio and we are looking at this mini-exhibition entitled “Objects” featuring Ettore Sottsass’ creations for brands, or as you canned it “La Tavola” (The Table). It is an encounter of design and retail. It encapsulates different products from different brands, all linked under the name of the same designer and provided by the brands and private collectors. What is the concept behind?

Stefano : It is the 100th anniversary of Sottsass’ birth and all over the world museums and designers are celebrating his great work as cutting-edge in the world of architecture and design in the collective of Memphis in the 1980s.

The exhibition features pieces from Alessi, Kartell, Artemide, and the gallery Novalis.

Stefano Tordiglione Design-Sottsass 22
Source : Stefano Tordiglione Design

The concept behind it is that in a space resembling an apartment like the first floor of my studio, Sottsass’ creations are disposed as they were at your own place. Chairs, lamps, plates, forks, everything is placed as if it was ready to be used.

We wanted to present Sottsass to Hong Kong design lovers, familiar with my studio and used to drop by, but also visitors interested in knowing more about this artist. I was not a big fan of him, I have to say, but I understood him. He contributed to the Italian design brands and being Italian, from the South, I love creativity, wherever it comes from. Of course, everybody thinks Milan is the city of design, but have you been to Naples?

Stefano Tordiglione Design-Sottsass 21
Source : Stefano Tordiglione Design

The idea behind the exhibition lies into the choice of the title : “La Tavola”.  In Italian language, “la tavola” can be anything. It is not the piece of furniture, that’s “il tavolo”.  “La tavola” is the actual gathering, we used it in different ways, but it always refers to people spending time together, in the same way I brought different brands together to celebrate their designer.

Where does retail come in? Products are exhibited, showcased, and collectors mainly, but also people liking them can even purchase the products although that’s not our prime aim since few items are actually privately owned.

It recalls the concept of apartment store, which is now popping up in London, just we are not sales people, we tell visitors the story of the exhibition, not the product, how they envision the pieces, then it is up to them.

RiA : Do you think retail is going in this direction then?

Stefano : I think design-oriented retail is important in Hong Kong, and sometimes even more in China. Hong Kong is the place where to be, create, get inspired, but the actual development happens in China.

Chinese consumers, the ones we have to please, are becoming more and more sophisticated, and they are actually looking at the layout of stores and the way products are displayed.

We also work in countries like Vietnam, India, Thailand, Philippines, that’s where we see the future and it is totally a different way of buying.

RiA : As our readers are mainly retailers, and design is omnipresent in this industry,  how to improve customer experience through design?

Stefano : Design has been developing in Asia, however, as much as design has developed in these 10 years also in Hong Kong, I believe that retail anticipated all of this.

Hong Kong with its luxury shopping malls was the place where people used to buy to show their social status, and where to find the latest trends. Nowadays, malls are going through a process of transformation and becoming a lifestyle place where to spend time more than money. The buzz word of today is ‘experience’ and design definitely plays a major role in redefining the space.

Retail design has always been the core business of European designers, as they were bringing to Asia the traits of the Western city landscape, also because the most appealing brands to Chinese customers were the ones coming from the West.

Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui with its huge entrances and facades still resembles the stores in the West. Now, also other areas in Hong Kong are acquiring that feature, and American brands and emerging brands are also looking at the retail store as their prime branding element.

For designers is the right time to be in Hong Kong, it is the time of change and with all of us into retail discussing the future of the physical store, seizing the moment we can all contribute to the redefinition of the city landscape.

I have been working a lot in retail and I can tell, all brands are looking for transformation. I get a lot of renovation and upgrade requests.

In China, instead, they have started understanding that not only the retail store is important, but also office, where you meet clients.

While if you come from Europe, It is not really a matter of choice, because let’s say you are a jewelry with retail store in Place Vendôme in Paris, this high-street where all jewelries are, the same feeling needs to be transferred to the retail stores abroad. Shopping malls become cities and stores need to rebuild the street feeling. Different brands worked with us in this direction on their new retail concepts. The purpose of the restyling was to make the store design more trendy, functional, welcoming, and reflecting the DNA of the brand. One of our very well established and appreciated international brands, Brooks Brothers, worked with us in this direction on their new concept.

If you are in China instead, it is something new, quite recent.

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RiA : When you work with brands, do they ask for anything specific when it comes to engaging millennials?

Stefano : O2O, omnichannel, I would say technology, that’s what they always mention. However, they want it to be subtly blended into an interesting design.

I think the secret is using technology to get the sales that would be lost otherwise. In the past, we liked walking around, entering shops, trying things on, and then maybe we used to go back home and come back the next day to buy the item. Now, people are looking for a less time-consuming experience, they enter the shop, the salesperson comes with an iPad showing the different colour options of the dress they are looking at, and then maybe without even trying it they buy it.

RiA : How about Studio Tordiglione’s plans, are you embracing technology?

Stefano : I am curious about it, we are now working on the store 2.0 for one of our brands, and it is going to have a concept, which aims to appeal to millennials. I can only say it is going to be in Shanghai.

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Initiatives life this exhibition are definitely a way to make the retail experience more engaging and promote a cultural-oriented approach to sales. At the end of the day, the encounter between brand and customers should become an unforgettable experience, and knowledge is definitely a timeless additional value.

Design plays a huge role in retail, and Retail in Asia has decided to pay more attention to the way brands and retailers are adopting design thinking to enhance customer experience.

As you may have noticed our articles about store openings are more and more focusing on the uniqueness of the retail concept or collections presented to understand how brands and retailers are try to engage the more and more sophisticated consumers in Asia Pacific.

If you have any questions about this topic, contact our InTelligence Team