Retail Square Footage Down, Cool Factor Up

In the days before before online sample sales and big box retailers, shopping was an event—a way to discover new things and to forge a sense of community. But with skyrocketing square-footage costs and compulsory markdowns on excess inventory, the independent brick-and-mortar store has become somewhat of an endangered species. Fortunately, fashion’s cutting edge contingent is reviving the lost art of big city shopping in entirely new ways.

With a fraction of the square footage and a temporary, devil-may-care air that’s otherwise missing in organized, premeditated retailing, these recession-minded shops are the anti-department stores. In line with the raved-about Monocle pop-up shops in New York, London and LA, fashion’s curatorial retailers—”curetailers,” if we may—are trailblazing a new retail experience with tiny shops that pack a big punch. “The idea is one of behemoth commercialism versus artful independent design,” Black Sheep & Prodigal Son‘s Derrick R. Cruz explains of this new retail attitude.

At Cruz’s brainchild shop Occulter, for instance, shoppers will find record albums, used books and black honey right alongside avant-garde fashion labels. This Lower East Side goth jewelbox of a shop is a way to show off the designer’s darkly romantic jewelry with the added interest and credibility of a lifestyle’s worth of goodies—all showcased in a space the size of a punk rock shoebox studio. “For brands with a strong message, curated boutiques are imperative,” explains Cruz. “Creating a small world where individuals can be enveloped by your ideas and ideals is priceless for branding…You’ll make more profit online, [but] they go hand-in-hand.”

In the Meatpacking District, meanwhile, BLACK Commes Des Garçons is a guerilla pop-up shop that showcases the label’s limited-edition, mid-priced BLACK collection. Think of it as a one-stop shop for cool kids on a bartender’s budget. Besides, who needs a bougie boutique when you can pass the savings right along to your core contingent in a bare bones setting? Fashion’s true fanatics will not miss velvet-upholstered dressing rooms in this to-the-point setting.

Cruz analogizes the current shopping model to the music business: “The big music monsters fell and supposedly the music business died,” he observes. “Funny thing happened though: a thousand little independent bands came out of nowhere and made a thousand little movements and new genres. We can thank their use of the internet for that. So, one could argue that, creatively, music is more successful than ever, regardless of whether or not Capitol Records is making a profit. With some good curatorial skills and some internet, I think small independent retailers and designers can do the same for fashion and design.”

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