No Reunification in Retail
Berlin’s vibrant retail scene is getting serious and growing up. But as well as clear investment and plenty of instore highlights, there’s also an apparent, if somewhat unexpected divide within the city.
I first visited Berlin fifteen years ago when the now uber-trendy Mitte district was still a run down area in what was the former East Berlin. Back then I was there to review the Adidas Originals store (one of the first for the brand at the time) and provide recommendations on how to fine-tune the concept. This was a store that broke the mould for retail design, pioneering with its clear sense of style that balanced old school cool with a modern edge. It spread the message that it was a cool brand for a cool city.
The Adidas Originals store has been refitted three times since. Where once it was a beacon of ‘cool’, now it has to compete with many familiar ‘faces’ on the international lifestyle brand circuit being forced to the back of the pack by its younger and more exciting brothers and sisters.
It’s a reflection of the evolution of the Mitte district itself. While Mitte’s architecture remains essentially unchanged, it has built up a reputation for being the city’s cultural hotspot. Where once stood local coffee shops and everyday businesses, neighbourhood gentrification has now taken hold, making it just like every other ‘cool’ district. The landscapes and currencies may be different, but the retail formats and social outcomes remain the same.
Berlin’s popular mainstream-orientated Charlottenburg area would also benefit from some much-needed investment. Once a jewel in the city’s shopping crown, it now looks tired and dated. This is not where the smart and the beautiful people shop. The frustrating paradox of course is that it’s where the biggest and most popular stores are located.
With so much of the focus on the former East Berlin, Charlottenburg has simply been left behind. Brave attempts have been made to regenerate the area, exemplified by the half vacant and somewhat ambiguous Bikini Berlin the world’s first concept mall incorporating retail units, offices, a hotel and cinema. The retail space is half empty, and what is there is not really worth a visit, being lacklustre and disappointing – the apes in the zoological garden visible from the inside are the only main attraction.
Confidence is key, as demonstrated by department store KaDeWe, with its bold use of the colour red. Ceiling navigation is made a surprising focal point thanks to a large grid format and neon lettering that calls out a strong seasonal statement. Elsewhere throughout the store, large lifestyle graphics stand out against the multi-tonal red used within the fixtures.
Fashionable underwear label Schiesser delighted with a unique and effective impact instore with prominent high-level messaging and the eye-catching use of blue string cascading from central points within the ceiling raft. Combined with spotlights casting delicate shadows over the brand name, it becomes a spectacular feature within the store bringing a genuine sense of modernism to the brand.
As an international fashion label, Drykorn, really know how to make a statement. The clean typeface is repeated throughout all touch points, from the fascia, POS and inside, the store creates one consistent message. This is much akin to their brand ethos. Meanwhile, sharply dressed mannequins and a striking black and white graphic gives its window real impact and stopping power.
Over at knitwear brand Stefanel its window display was as exceptional as its product, showcasing a beautiful knitted bicycle. By using a mixture of bright colours across the piece, the bike added a new dimension to ‘thinking outside the box’ when it comes to the traditional window display. The evidence of various styles and techniques of knitting to create such an original display item threads trust and expertise into the brand, and is sure to keep you coming back, if just to see what new experiences lie inside.
Of course, everything goes in cycles. Charlottenburg and the rest of the West may one day reclaim its place in the sun. For now, at least, as autumn rolls into Berlin, the East is where it’s at.