With London store LN-CC settling into a new era, we chat to creative director John Skelton & set designer Gary Card on the rebirth and roots of the progressive store.
Open to experimentation, unafraid of change, London's LN-CC, Late Night Chameleon Cafe, has undergone multiple shifts across its short life span. Founded in 2010, changing shape along the way, the "progressive lifestyle retailer" quickly established itself as the go-to store for both big name luxury labels and those newcomers at the more off-beat end of the scale. Riding out the inevitable highs and lows that are part and parcel of such a unique venture, a recent period of financial difficulty for the business would result in its biggest revamp to date. New partners, Italian e-commerce experts The Level Group, invested heavily in the concept store, a shop floor and online redesign accompanied by a new, more efficient approach to strategy and management. With the Milan-based firm providing the necessary support to grow and develop the company around its existing ethos and framework, the relaunch marks a new beginning for LN-CC.
At its core remains a commitment to carefully chosen product. A deceptively simple goal, creative director and original founder John Skelton, formerly of Selfridges and oki-ni, has worked tirelessly to separate LN-CC from the crowd. Under his guidance, the new LN-CC boasts an extensive brand list ranging from Comme des Garçons and Jil Sander to Marvielab, E,Tautz and Yang Li, with ethical options via eco-conscious labels Fanmail, SCHMIDTTAKAHASHI and Lunge. Reacting to and shaping the current mood, LN-CC are keen to provide context for the current line-up. On offer, archive collections from Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto and Helmut Lang reflect the team's respect and reverence for the past.
With the announcement of a major shift, LN-CC transforming from appointment-only showroom to a 7 days a week concern, we sat down with Skelton to talk concept and hear from set designer Gary Card on his futuristic vision for the store's interior.
John, can you talk us through your own background before LN-CC?
I started working on the shop floor as a sales assistant when I was 17 at a store in Newcastle called Strand. The store was selling what I would class as being the best brands in the world at the time such as Prada, Raf, Dries etc. I was constantly asking the owner to let me go along to buying appointments with him. Eventually he took me along. Then, when I was 19 he gave me the buyers position. I did this for 2 years and it was an incredible experience for me. I then moved to London at 21 and bought designer and contemporary menswear at Selfridges, which again opened me up to a wide range of experiences I hadn’t had before. It was a very special time. At 23 I went to buy men’s designer wear at Harrods, which was probably the perfect job for me then, as I was really starting to understand the brands and I had customers there who weren't scared to get involved with product at the top end of the spectrum. At 25, I took the role of creative director at oki-ni and set about re-thinking and re-launching the project. Then at 28, I decided to start LN-CC.
How did LN-CC first come about?
I had spent my whole working life up until starting at oki-ni in bricks and mortar retail, which was something I really loved and understood. At the same time I could also see the potential in online retail and I had a fascination with businesses that could operate 24/7 so I wanted to get involved and understand how that worked. After being at oki-ni for a few years, I started to see a benefit in having both arms, store and online, working in tandem. The two platforms have very different functions but if they're both run properly a harmonious balance can be achieved. At this time there were some serious developments in the world of product which I was keen to explore and I was also becoming increasingly interested in womenswear. All of these factors came together to form the starting point of LN-CC.
What was the initial ethos of the store?
The team spent a few months travelling and went to see many of the stores of note across the world, but we found that from a retail environment perspective nothing really moved us in a meaningful way. We then set about creating an environment that tugged at all of the senses; one that wasn’t just set up to showcase product or was solely focused on clothing, but something that had a much more lifestyle approach, from the space itself through to the mix and curation of the product we sold. The first idea was that we wanted to have a forest as an entrance, that then lead into a tunnel which would form the base of the store with all the rooms branching off. We then met with designer Gary Card and he developed the ideas further. Before we knew it we had a real, working space.
Would you say LN-CC has changed much since its launch in 2010?
I hope so. First and foremost LN-CC is about progression and experimentation, the need to move things forward and develop new ideas. In the past five years not only has the world of product and retail moved on but so has the customer and more generally, the world we live in. That’s what the store and the offer within it is all about. A timeline, a story reflecting where the world of product has been, is now and where it is going.
Would you describe LN-CC as a "concept" store?
I wouldn’t describe LN-CC as a concept store. It was set up as a platform to express our ideas and feelings. If that is classed as conceptual then maybe, but we never set out to be described as such.
Are you trying to appeal to the customer who knows what they want or those who come in with a completely open mind?
The idea was always to put out an expression and curation that stemmed from our own interests. Hopefully that produces something that isn’t already in existence. This then provides an alternative choice and an option for consumers. If they then want to get involved in it then that’s fantastic. If they don’t, then that’s cool too.
How would you sum up the buying process?
Identify brands we want to work with. Go and buy what we regard as being the best pieces within the collections. Simple.
Tell us about the current offering?
I would say that the offering is a transitional one that pays homage to the brands of today and even yesteryear through the current range and our archive selection, which will always be relevant to the people that are into product in a serious way. This is twinned with the conscious assortment of product that has just recently launched, which I find very interesting on many levels. The thing that is interesting me the most with this selection of product is that it is actually doing what new brands should do. It is asking questions of the industry and the people who buy product and it is fascinating to see the reaction from all sides. This product is coming from a very good, clean and wholesome place, which is reflected in the aesthetics, of course. So it's really asking the consumer 'which side of the fence are you on?' It's almost like, if you want to get behind this movement then you need to be prepared to forget about looking "edgy" as that’s not what it's about. That’s not what the future of our planet is about. It’s about coming together and collectively making changes that will shape the future of our world and our existence within it.
Gary, talk us through your initial plans when first presented with the LN-CC project.
As you may know, this is the second version of LN-CC we have made, it was a completely open brief, one of the main things I wanted to achieve was that I wanted it to look like no other retail space that had existed before, it was a ambitious idea but that's what I had in mind at the time. The shops I loved were Margiela and Dover Street Market, but knew we had to make it totally different from those 2 for fear of comparison; I actually used to go to Dover Street a lot at the time, just to make sure we weren't doing anything similar. This time around was about retaining the structure of the original but reinterpreting it, giving the space a brand new feel, whilst reminding you of where it came from.
How would you describe the new interiors?
A baptism in white emulsion! That was a joke in my head when starting the project but that almost became the philosophy behind the new store. A fresh start, a blank canvas, stripping away the warm wood charm of the original and making a starker, more focused space.
Can you tell us about the materials in use across the space?
The materials constantly change, we have stripped it of all the colour of the original, choosing white, grey and black in different ways; white plaster, grey metal, black glass, we tried lots of different ways to explore texture, making it a far more tactile experience this time round.
Is there an overriding theme or is the space a mix of concepts?
Its a mix of concepts, we wanted to create a completely immersive experience that changed feeling from room to room so there are lots of different influences, some are sci-fi, some are art-based, some are just simple material lead ideas, like 'what would an entirely carpeted room look like?'
How do you hope the customer will react to the new space?
Hopefully they'll fall to their knees weeping at the site of how beautiful it is, if nothing else I want people to enjoy the shifting themes and ideas, it was designed as a place to hang out, explore and to spend time in, if people have that experience then I've done my job.
Late Night Chameleon Cafe: The basement 18-24 Shacklewell Lane, London E8 2EZ