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Editor's pick Retail technology

Exploring Google’s experiential London pop-up: the Curiosity Rooms

Google's The Curiosity Rooms
Google’s Curiosity Rooms

Google has opened a month-long pop-up on London’s Regent Street, called the Curiosity Rooms, which offers a balance between connected moments and digital detoxing over a cup of tea.

The space is dedicated to encouraging visitor curiosity, a theme the tech company has embraced with the launch of its new Google Pixel 3 phone.

The result is a plethora of workshops, talks and experiences that have welcomed crowds of people since it opened last week, with most of the events planned sold out for the month.

The biggest lines when I visited focused around the “All-In Auto Wash” room – where groups can take selfies with the new Pixel phone, framed by pink carwash wipers – and the invite-only activation in the basement with pop band, Little Mix.

In between the mania, however, is a little haven of quiet in the form of The Pixedilly Café, a pink and blue 60s designed space. Here, guests are invited to experience one of the new features of the Pixel 3 phone, which invites a more mindful approach to digital communications.

The simple idea is that when you turn the phone over, all notifications, messages, calls and any other digital noise is turned off. Only when you are ready to get back to the real world, can you see all missed communications, simply by turning it back over.

To celebrate this sense of digital freedom, Google wants you to relax and enjoy in the most English-way possible – with a cup of tea. You don’t just get any old tea selection though, but instead the perfect one for you, based on a tasting menu that asks you four questions, all connected to how you would spend your perfect (digital) day-off.

The tongue-in-cheek asks include what type of weather you are, “warm and sunny” or “dark-and-stormy”, in order to concoct your custom brew. I ended up with the “Perfect Wind Down Cuppa”, a hot and spicy fruit tea mix.

Google's Curiosity Rooms
Google’s Curiosity Rooms

The pop-up space is otherwise spread over three floors in total with a multitude of further areas dedicated to different experiences.

There’s also the Google Maker’s Studio, which sees space rented by local London vendors, including flower-delivery company called Patch, and a small designer hosting workshops every week to teach children how to make clothes. There‘s also another space for creative talks, a coffee bar and a children’s play area with a giant “Not Pink” slide that allows those of all ages to travel down to the ground-floor again.

Meanwhile, the changing roster of events, with different talks, workshops and live podcast recordings, all tie in with the themes of health, mindfulness and millennial mind-sets.

A notable kick-off to the store space saw writer and activist Scarlett Curtis recording a live version of her Feminists Don’t Wear Pink podcast. Visitors have also been privy to a one-of-a-kind dining experience with food writer Grace Dent; a talk by entrepreneurial creative Sharmadean Reid, the co-founder of WAH nails and founder of beauty platform Beautystack, on how to use everyday technology to reach your goals; and further live podcast recordings with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes and their weekly The High Low show.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Retail sustainability

Eileen Fisher concept store teaches consumers how to recycle and repurpose garments

Eileen Fisher
Eileen Fisher

American label Eileen Fisher has opened a concept store in Brooklyn where it will be running workshops that teach consumers how to live more sustainably.

In line with the label’s long-established mission of creating ethical, ‘timeless’ clothing that inspires simplicity and creativity, the store, called Making Space, focuses on “community-centered retail”. It does so by engaging with locals and visitors through workshops, movie screenings, gallery exhibitions and other events.

A workshop under the “Renew” theme will help consumers understand how the company’s take-back program, which started three years ago and now receives back over 800 used garments a day, helps clothing receive a second life, for instance.

Meanwhile, “Lifework” workshops will aim to help consumers live more mindfully from the inside out, and will feature experts and teachers whose work the brand is passionate about.

Lastly at the front of the store, a dedicated area will have artists-in-residence demonstrating their craft and teaching techniques like dyeing clothing with flowers and food byproducts, as demonstrated by the inaugural artist, Cara Marie Piazza.

Artist Cara Marie Piazza will be teaching how to dye garments using plant and food-based ingredients

Eileen Fisher merchandise will also be on display, through four different product categories: Remade, which are one-of-a-kind pieces made from worn Eileen Fisher clothing; Renew, which are older, worn styles that have been cleaned and mended; 111, of limited-edition samples; and lastly, current collections. Color-coded rings on individual hangers will identify each collection accordingly.

Throughout the store the designer’s commitment to sustainability affects every element of its design and decor, from seat cushions made from recycled denim, to the worn Eileen Fisher clothing that has been repurposed as rag rugs and fitting room curtains. The pièce de résistance however is a seven-foot by six-foot sculpture by artist Derick Melander, which features a tower comprised of 2,000 reclaimed garments.

The Brooklyn store represents the future of the Eileen Fisher brand. It is also currently designing a “Brooklyn Lite” prototype to test the concept at two existing stores in Seattle and Michigan, before rolling it out to its remaining 65 outposts.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick mobile Retail technology

American Express brings shoppable AR feature to Coachella

Coachella
Coachella

American Express has integrated a shoppable augmented reality feature to the official app of the Coachella music festival, spanning two weekends in Palm Springs this month.

The payment company’s AR experience allows its cardholders to buy select merchandise by using an AR camera feature when at the festival’s grounds.

Within the Coachella app, Amex cardholders can tap a dedicated Amex tab that will enable the AR experience, as well as give them a series of other benefits and rewards. Clicking the “shop” feature and waving their phones will trigger an AR image of exclusive merchandise, which can be purchased on the spot.

Other cardholder benefits at the festival include entrance into a club area, access to an Uber priority lane and free Ferris wheel rides, while Platinum card members get access to a dedicated house that hosts exercise classes and music performances.

The AR app from American Express at Coachella
The AR app from American Express at Coachella

Amex has been increasingly experimenting with AR technology in order to enable tech-enhanced, real-world experiences that blend discovery and commerce to its cardholders.

It has recently collaborated with Justin Timberlake to launch an experience to promote his new album, titled “Man of the Woods”, within the American Express Music app. The “Outside In” AR camera experience sees Timberlake himself guide users through a Montana setting while he shares details of how his “Breeze Off the Pond” track came together. Users can also shop for exclusive merchandise while partaking in the experience.

Justin Timberlake and American Express
Justin Timberlake and American Express

Brands are upping the ante when it comes to striking the right balance in providing immersive mobile experiences that eventually convert into sales. By its nature, AR technology needs to be deployed in-situ, meaning there is also scope to play with the element of scarcity by making the experience geo-fenced, as seen with the Coachella feature.

Most recently, Nike teamed up with Snapchat to offer early access to a new shoe at a basketball game that could only be purchased by scanning Snapcodes; meanwhile at SXSW this year, hip activewear brand Outdoor Voices encouraged Austin locals and visitors to go outside by creating an AR experience that surfaced particular products depending on location.

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Retail technology

Balmain takes customers on a creative journey using virtual reality

Balmain's creative director Olivier Rousteing
Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing

Balmain has unveiled its new concept store in Milan, featuring a virtual reality experience based around the dream-like inspirations behind the designs of creative director Olivier Rousteing.

The experience, named “My City of Lights” aims to take visitors into the mind of Rousteing; to follow the creative influences behind his collections. Visitors putting on one of the custom Oculus VR headsets, designed by Rousteing himself, will find themselves inside the empty rooms of a Baroque castle, a high cathedral and even the rooftops of Paris.

The store showcases the first in a series of VR experiences as part of Balmain’s Wonderlabs marketing strategy focusing on entertainment and technology. Balmain’s strategy demonstrates its desire to transform the retail experience and forge the way in using technology in fashion retail.

Balmain

Speaking to Vogue, Rousteing revealed that democracy is a driving force for these kind of experiences in store. “Fashion is more inclusive than ever, and there’s no better way to include more people than through technology and digital,” he said.

Rousteing isn’t new to technology collaborations in store. The opening of Balmain’s Melrose Place site also marked the launch of a collaboration between Rousteing and Beats headphones.

The Milan store however, is the luxury brand’s first flagship in Italy and has been launched to coincide with Salone del Mobile, the international furniture and design show taking place in the city. The My City of Lights experience in it will next travel to other Balmain stores around the world.

 

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Editor's pick Retail

Hermès debuts immersive vinyl shop experience at NYC men’s flagship

Herme?s "Silk Mix"
Herme?s “Silk Mix”

Hermès is bringing an immersive experience to its men’s store in New York by transforming the space into a vinyl record store for 10 days. Titled the Silk Mix, the space is an art installation centered around music, while showcasing the luxury label’s iconic silks.

On entering the main floor, customers are met with a replica of an old-fashioned vinyl record store with a twist – all albums on display are covered with a different silk design from the men’s assortment, which amounts to 225 different styles and 53 patterns.

The idea is that shoppers can pick their favorite pattern and put the record on for a spin at a bank of available turntables. Adding to the immersive environment are walls covered in dozens of cassette tapes adorned with 125 styles, and 25 different patterns of men’s tie designs.

Herme?s "Silk Mix"
Herme?s “Silk Mix”

The creative experience was developed by Véronique Nichanian, the brand’s head of menswear, Christophe Goineau, creative director of men’s silk, and Thierry Planelle, who has curated music for the label’s men’s show for the past 15 years.

“As a retailer, I had a few palpitations,” said Robert Chavez, CEO of the label, to WWD, on the Silk Mix concept. “But we keep talking about experiences in retail and I think when people come in and see this, they’re going to be very surprised. It’s very interactive and fun, so why not.”

Beyond the experience, which is set to travel to other cities this year, having kickstarted already in Europe in 2017, the label has also recently launched a  Hermès Héritage exhibition at its Beverly Hills flagship. Celebrating the brand’s history, this first chapter, titled “Harnessing the Roots”, focuses on fashion-meets-function with a look at the house’s history of almost 200 years.

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Editor's pick mobile Retail technology

4 ways Asia is supercharging retail with tech-enabled physical experiences

Alibaba and Ford's car vending machine
Alibaba and Ford’s car vending machine

Much has been said about the death of the store at the hands of the digital era, but retailers and brands with physical footprints are increasingly harnessing technology to instil a sense of connectivity and immersion in their spaces.

Front and center within that is the Asia market, which is setting the standard by responding to consumers’ avid connected behavior and facilitating increasingly digitized physical journeys that perfectly blend both realities.

Here, we highlight four of our favorite recent brand examples.

Ford and Alibaba’s unstaffed car vending machine

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has partnered with automaker Ford on a cat-shaped car vending machine in China that allows potential buyers the chance to try-before-they-buy. The structure, located in Guangzhou, is completely self-directed and available only to Alibaba’s Super Members, the highest tier of membership in the retailer’s program.

Once users go through a background check on the Alibaba app, they can select their preferred vehicle and head to one of the Super Test-Drive Centers. Arriving at the location, they can use either facial recognition or a login code to trigger the test-drive experience, which they can do for up to three days.

Starbucks’ augmented coffee mecca
Starbucks Reserve Roastery AR experience
Starbucks Reserve Roastery AR experience

Starbucks meanwhile is focusing on augmented reality in its new Shanghai Reserve Roastery, where the coffee brand tapped into the Chinese consumer’s mobile-first behavior by creating a digital scavenger hunt.

Available through Taobao, consumers have to scan a code in-store and then proceed to scan coffee machines and brewers around the store to trigger content. Doing so with such physical objects activates animations on the mobile screen, and then offers the user more information on the coffee making process, such as how specific machines roast the coffee.

By offering consumers more branded storytelling through mobile, the company aligns with its Reserve Roastery concept ethos, which is to act as a mecca on all things coffee-making, and serve avid customers accordingly.

Shiseido’s smart diagnosis and brand content mirrors
Shiseido's smart mirror
Shiseido’s smart mirror

Smart mirrors might not be anything new within the ‘tech in-store’ discussion, but at Shiseido’s recently opened flagship in the Ginza Six shopping complex in Tokyo, the connected device offers more granular and personalized content than we’ve seen before, including around diagnosis.

Customers visiting the store can have their picture taken by a smart mirror, which results in a skin analysis and step-by-step guidance on screen on how to apply a curation of products. Afterwards, users can scan a QR code generated on the screen to put their counselling data on their own phone.

Additional features in Shiseido’s tech-enabled store, include screens that change visuals whenever someone is within two meters of them, as well as smart tables that recognize when a specific product has been picked up, and generate information on a smart screen accordingly.

Jack & Jones and Vero Moda’s facial recognition payments
Jack & Jones
Jack & Jones

You can’t talk about Asia without mentioning WeChat, and in this instance the future of payments. Danish fashion brands Jack & Jones and Vero Moda, part of the Bestseller group, have recently opened smart stores in two Chinese locations that are powered by Tencent’s facial recognition technology, allowing customers to pay with their face.

Located in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the smart stores allow shoppers to shop without the need for cash or even their mobile phones. After completing the facial recognition registration at digital kiosks in-store, shoppers become members of the Tencent’s “AI Club”, which is powered by WeChat Pay. When checking out, they can then use the feature to complete the payment, which is debited through their WeChat wallets.

Beyond cashless (and mobile-less) payment capabilities, the entire store experiences can be automated. At the fitting room, the same technology is applied – once the shopper is recognized by a smart screen, they can receive recommendations based on past purchases.

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Editor's pick technology

Rebecca Taylor to debut 3D installation with Google Tilt Brush at NYFW

 

Rebecca Taylor illustration by Wesley Allsbrook 3D google tilt brush
Rebecca Taylor’s Google Tilt Brush illustration by Wesley Allsbrook

Rebecca Taylor has teamed up with Tilt Brush by Google for an in-store installation during the brand’s fall 2018 NYFW presentation.

Tilt Brush is a VR app that lets users paint in three-dimensional spaces, thus rendering any room a blank canvas for interaction. At Taylor’s Meatpacking District store, guests will be able to immerse in a space that uses light-infused 3D projections, further enhanced by Tilt Brush and augmented reality effects.

To achieve the feat, the designer collaborated with Wesley Allbrook, an illustrator who is part of Google’s Artist in Residence campaign, to create the 3D environment; and Pendnt, an independent art studio, to introduce AR elements.

“One of my favorite quotes is from Roald Dahl, where he talks about watching the world with glittering eyes because the world’s greatest secrets are hidden in the most unlikely places. This quote really resonates with me because I love the idea of finding a little bit of magic in everyday life and translating that into my collections. I want our customer to feel inspired when she’s wearing our clothing, and I think this collaboration with Tilt Brush really allows that magical vision to be brought to life,” Taylor told WWD.

The installation will be open for interaction on February 7 by invitation, while consumers will be able to visit the store, pre-order the collection and experience the Tilt Brush project from February 8.