It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. Physical retail stores should have been long dead and buried by now.
Just a few years ago, the prognosis was bleak. As the internet and online shopping became the way of life for most, brick and mortar locations were expected to slowly wither away and die. Sure, some did succumb, but the good ones — the really good ones — simply got smarter, doubling down on what made them so beloved or interesting in the first place, offering consumers an experience far removed from a monotonous glare at the Amazon homepage.
If there’s one thing Berlin does well — aside from cheap drugs, kebabs, and techno music — it’s concept stores. And that makes sense. As a city that prides itself on experimentation, not to mention its rich artistic history, the German capital is a fertile ground for retailers keen to break from orthodoxy and challenge the very notion of what a shopping space should be.
There’s the sorely underrated ANDREAS MURKUDIS, rigorously curated and executed with the precision of an upscale gallery; The Store, where young people catch up over brunch, flanked by rails of Balenciaga and OFF-WHITE clothing; and Voo, located in the rapidly gentrifying Kreuzberg, complete with a cozy café and courtyard.
MCM’s 1976 Berlin, the luxury brand’s first foray into experimental retail, is the latest addition to the city’s commercial landscape.
Upon entering the converted garage, it becomes immediately clear that the new store isn’t a store at all. It’s an exhibition space. A place for collaboration.
Paying homage to the building’s past, cracked windscreens lay mounted on their side, while slate boulders dominate the center of the room like fallen obelisks. Custom furniture is placed, seemingly arbitrarily, across the floor and some kind of assembly line automaton dangles from the ceiling. Bocci lights, a surefire signifier of elevated taste, illuminate the place.
It’s mad but in a good way. Like some kind of industrial living quarters that’s been designed by a particularly zany Dadaist. As MCM explains in a press release, 1976 Berlin is not just a place to buy products, but a platform for creative engagement. It’s a bold move from a brand keen to connect with the city’s youth.
Keen to find out more about the space, which is sandwiched in between SOTO and Souvenir in the popular Torstrasse area, we caught up with MCM global creative officer Dirk Schönberger.
You’ve mentioned that the store design is fluid, so you can always change it. Can you expand on that?
It can be. It can be set up like this for three months. It can be a year. It can be whatever. When we think it’s time to move on, we can change it. Maybe we take two tables off and put something completely different here. I don’t want to plan. I want what is the best for the collections, for the curated pieces we want to put in here.
The first round of pieces will be heritage products. There will be 20 pieces only. That’s it.
I don’t want to use it as a classical retail space, where we show the whole collection. I want a single idea that we can really focus on.
Where did the idea for the store come from?
From my love for art, visiting galleries on a regular basis, and also seeing how gallery spaces change when a new artist comes in. I like this idea for a retail space because I feel like designers come and go and the whole world around those people is so ephemeral. In contrast, luxury brands feel so permanent, so fixed. I felt like I wanted to do something. I want to surprise people.
It’s also a very good instrument for showing how I want to evolve MCM as a brand.
Can you expand on that a bit more?
We talk about the real super-young, trendy, millennial consumer, but I’ve come to know they are a very different kind of people.
Like we are really targeting a very young consumer, and I felt all our flagship stores reflect that. If you go to Asia, I think we have pretty experimental stores there. I think it’s very, very disruptively different from location to location, and I really want to be closer to where those consumers are. They are not in [major shopping boulevard] Kurfurstendamm here in Berlin. They are here in this area.
I want to make them curious for the brand. MCM has such a rich heritage. You can look back to when we were very much focused on backpacks, whereas other luxury brands were like, “Ooh, what is that? What’s going on?” And now we can see every luxury brand has such a big backpack business. I think there’s a very youthful, disruptive spirit about the brand, and I want to just make that message clear.
You could say Berlin as a city encapsulates that spirit, so it seems a good fit.
I want a space where I can exhibit young artists, for example. I have a space like this one, where we could invite designers in and make an installation for a month. I see it more not like a retail space but like a cultural experience. I want to really emphasize that.
Can you tell me more about how the collaborations will work?
For gallery weekend, we will have an installation in here. Things like that will happen on a regular basis. We are going to select people that we want to work with, maybe even make products with them. I think it needs to be something special and very pointed. There needs to be a mutual feel to the collaboration.
Torstrasse seems like the perfect place in Berlin to do that.
Exactly. It was the go-to place for people who were off the beaten path, but has since become slightly more established. I still think it’s a pretty cool place to be in Berlin.