Snowfields is a shopping mall located in Soho built on the concept of immersive storytelling. Their website landing page is currently advertising a tour to experience the future of retail. From their website alone it is clear that Snowfields prides itself as the most interesting, innovative retail concept.
The tour is an immersive theatre experience whereby visitors are able to touch, smell, eat and test all products onsite. Below is a quote from their About page.
SHOWFIELDS is a revolutionary retail concept built to engage and inspire your sense of discovery through revolving experiences with the brands and communities shaping our future. We partner with brands to create a stage for immersive storytelling and unlock new offline channels for growth.
Clearly, operating with the goal to increase sales through offline channels, the store has put great effort into designing the in-store experience to be about discovery and immersive storytelling. This past Sunday I took the tour to experience 'the future of retail'.
SNOWFIELDS TOUR EXPERIENCE
My tour was scheduled in the morning and before I even reached the actual entry to the store, I was called in to the building through a neighbouring door to what looked like a small cafe. Interestingly, half the drinks on the menu were free for store visitors and were a fusion of your typical go-to cafe drinks (lattes, cappuccinos...) and what sounded like new age proteins and energy supplements (bone broth protein with your latte?).
Each drink features a chocolate powder text, usually a brand name like GUCCI or some inspirational word. Mine had "ANCIENT NUTRIENTS" on it (I ordered a regular latte...).
The first floor hosts the cafe - which is actually the brand Coffee 'n Clothes who also has interactive website here - and several other brands in smaller partitioned areas of varying sizes and shapes. Below is a rough sketch of the floor plan.
Upon receiving my very normal latte I was advised to go up to the third floor where the tour would start. The third floor also has many partitioned areas for individual brands and each section has a specific theme - a living room, a bedroom, a leather workshop and so on. At the far left end of the store was where everybody gathered for the tour (blue area on the below floor plan).
The room resembled a cozy waiting area with bookshelves against the walls and several cushioned seats and a couch. There sat two families with children and several other people. After a few moments, the designer of the entire experience came to greet us all, and called the mall her 'house', signaling that she's now in character and the performance has started. She invited us to a hidden room in her house that can be accessed by pushing in one of the bookshelf walls. We entered a small room through the hidden door and saw what looked like an entry to a tunnel, just big enough to fit a human, going down through the floor. We were all invited to slide down the tunnel which spiraled and reached the second floor.
Once on the second floor, we were offered to try a hand cream/skin exfoliator that, as the house owner warned us, is so good at making dead skin just fall off that sometimes our entire arm may fall off... Admittedly the comment was more for entertaining the kids who were on the tour but definitely made everyone laugh.
Some of the highlights of the rest of the tour were the highly theatrical experience inside a prefabricated business traveler's pod, a smoothie sachet containing dried organic fruits and vegetables, and a highly clinical feeling 'lab' where you can find various miscellaneous products spread out on shelves, tables and bench tops that resemble an assembly line.
Second floor LAB:
The LAB experience felt unique as many of the products followed the general clinical aesthetic for their branding and packaging: many sachets, strange bottles resembling medicine containers, little white trays commonly used in labs containing various products. The shop assistants were dressed in all white, resembling lab technicians.
Outside THE LAB, the second floor had uniquely styled sections each resembling a room inside a house: bathroom, living room, children's room and so on.
The third floor was also partitioned into different sections with their own theme, but the general feel was definitely more commercial, although I appreciated how the furniture in each room were actually usable by the visitors. One could sit down on a super plushy chair and take in the details of the room.
THIRD FLOOR PARTITIONED ROOMS WITH DIFFERENT THEMES:
The shop assistants on this floor also wore all white uniform.
FIRST FLOOR BRANDS:
The first floor resembled a long rectangular space partitioned into rooms of varying sizes and shapes, each hosting different brands. Having had my free latte, organic fruit smoothie, and hand exfoliated, I did feel taken care of. But the performative aspect of the entire experience, although enjoyable, also made me feel somewhat out of place. While checking out the first floor brands, this feeling of out-of-placeness became more prominent as I spent more time observing the products on display.
One product that caught my attention during this time is the below Mr.DOG dog poop plastic bag holder. It's a little leather pouch that holds the plastic bags a dog owner would typically use to pick up their dog's poop. But the pouch costs $150 to pre-order and they really are, just, poop bag holders. After checking out Mr.DOG's website, it's clear that they have commitment to Made In USA, and they test every product with their ambassadors who lick, scratch, chew and bite every product. But apart from that, the entire branding is about dog products being as good quality and well made as products for humans. Do they have some kind of partnership with a dog shelter, or do they perhaps donate part of their profit to a worthy cause? No information on this could be found on their website.
This in my opinion is exactly why I felt a little out of place while walking through the mall. The entire mall experience is designed to be interesting, immersive, high quality, and a little unaffordable for the average customer. In trying to make the brick and mortar model more profitable, it appears that the shopping experience had to become a kind of an unaffordable spectacle that you can only get the experience of if you go to a physical store.
Is the future of brick and mortar then still about luxury that we cannot quite afford? Is the ultimate fashion experience still about luxury? In trying to break away from the production driven capitalist model, are we still using the economics of what's scarce, unaffordable and unreachable to make profit? Obviously we are. But couldn't the fashion experience be more about empowerment, equality, collaboration and creation? How would such an experience look like, and still feel 'luxurious'? If fashion is not selling products, how would it look like?