WORD founder Christopher Warren reckons that retail can play a vital role in unifying the multiple personalities of Los Angeles and creating urban context.
Katya Tylevich: What is unique about retail design in Los Angeles?
Christopher Warren: Compared to other cities, shopping here is destination-based. Because of car culture, you don’t go strolling down the street as you would in New York or Paris. That means you rarely come across a store by accident and make an impulse buy. Most of the time, you know exactly which stores you're going to, and you might even know exactly what you’re looking for after seeing it online. To get a shopper to drive to a store in LA, a brand needs to create an environment for shopping, not just a display of its wares.
KT: Is there anything that recurs in LA retail design?
CW: The nice thing about Los Angeles is that you can throw a seed anywhere and it will grow. Whenever possible, we try to incorporate landscape either inside the store, or at least near the front of the store or its windows. The Isabel Marant store on Melrose Place is a good example of a garden in front of a store. The shopfront is set back 9 m from the sidewalk, so you walk through a garden of dry terrain plants to get inside. I like that they didn’t put the actual store right in your face. In my work, I also try to embrace the beautiful weather and the 300-plus days of sunshine we have here. As much as possible, retail spaces in LA leave doors and windows open – or at least they should. The original design of OMA’s Prada store in LA didn’t even have a front door – the entire storefront was wide open, which I thought was great.
KT: How do you see Los Angeles retail design moving into the future?
CW: One approach I hope never to see again is a designer taking an existing space and just ‘making it pretty.’ I want that to go away. My hope is that retail design here becomes more and more engaged with the sidewalk. Right now, LA is lacking urban context because there's a lack of pedestrian culture, but that’s changing. Any store that engages the street has a duty to become a part of the changing urban context. In my opinion, even a small store can contribute to Los Angeles’ urban development in a big way.