Somewhere between all those hastily redesigned buildings and aggressively outlandish ploys, pop-up retail lost its guerilla appeal. Too ubiquitous to be unique, too gimmicky to be genuine, the self-promoting temporary retail experience has become the brand equivalent of defining a word with the word itself. Fortunately, Wieden + Kennedy has restored the missing sense of exclusivity and unexpected discovery to the pop-up retail equation with SHOP, a five-day creative bazaar at the international advertising agency’s New York offices last weekend.
SHOP emphasizes innovative talent rather than mainstream brands, creative democracy rather than look-at-me theatrics. Featuring fresh New York designers like Burkman Brothers, Saturdays, Nicholas K and JC Report favorites Isaora and A-Morir, this retail experiment unites independent icons within a larger creative community. “The exercise for us,” explains Phil Chang, one of the masterminds behind the project, “was as much about building a sense of community among our creative friends as it was about showing what these rad independent brands could do with a whole lot (23,000-square-feet, to be precise) of space at their disposal.”
Taking over the empty expanse of a soon-to-be-renovated floor in the company’s Tribeca office building, Chang and his colleagues offered free rein to the designers themselves. “There was very little to no curatorial insight on our part,” he admits. “We didn’t even tell people how much space they could use; it was a free-for-all from the beginning.”
And the result? A totally organic, refreshingly uncontrived sartorial mosaic. Steven Alan‘s nautical theme included hanging rope ladders and striped tablecloths, Rogan delighted shoppers with a bubble gun and bright hanging denim, Bing Bang‘s haute-costume jewelry was displayed on reclaimed vintage items (a ceramic bust, wooden box, tailor’s mannequin) and Curtis Kulig‘s iconic “Love Me” tag adorned an entire stretch of wall. Meanwhile, Fool’s Gold Records curated daily DJ sets and Baohaus‘ Eddie Huang served up street food-inspired Taiwanese fare.
Although none of the participating designers are professionally represented by Wieden + Kennedy, they have each been showcased within Day Trip, the agency’s in-house publication, over the past few years. And for an agency that’s more like a Vulcan mind meld of creativity than a traditional advertising firm, SHOP is as much of a branding opportunity for Wieden + Kennedy as it is for the individual designers themselves. Already recognized as an identity-defining powerhouse (Nike’s “Just Do It,” is just one famous example), the agency now establishes its additional credibility as a true purveyor of taste. Although well-aware of being a fashion industry outsider, Chang points out that the project “[was created by people who] have a deep appreciation for what fashion has done for New York City’s culture. SHOP is our way of expressing our respect for the creativity of locally bred, independent NYC brands and designers.”
It’s this understanding of pop-up retail as the domain of discerning tastemakers, not merely the brands themselves, that made SHOP a success. “[This] is just another step in Wieden + Kennedy New York’s ever-evolving conversation with NYC’s creatives about how an ad agency can help you better accomplish what you’re already doing on your own,” Chang explains. “SHOP isn’t about what Wieden is doing, it’s about celebrating what others are doing.” Hip-hungry brands would do well to take notes from this dynamic model rather than sticking to the lonely tea party approach. After all, cool is almost always defined by association.
Photos courtesy of WKNYC