Streamlined design combines with the latest technology, writes Stephen Crafti.
Sneakerboy in Little Bourke Street (next door to David Jones) is only 80 square metres. Blink and you might even miss this new venture, a hybrid between a "bricks and mortar" and online store.
Conceived by the company's creative director, Chris Kyvetos, and designed by March Studio, it's a great example of the future direction of retail. The mouse hole-style entrance, with a cross emblazoned on sliding glass doors, reveals glass shelves with top-end designer trainers.
Sneakers by all the leading designers are represented, from Rick Owens, Lanvin, Yohji Yamamoto and Giuseppe Zanotti, with prices ranging from $150 through to $3000 for a pair of stingray and python high-backed sneakers by Balmain.
But unlike most stores, there are no price tags on the merchandise. Instead, customers tune in on their phones or iPads in store to find the price, size and availability.
"This way there's no need for stockroom space. If it's not here, it can be delivered to your door in a few days, sent from Hong Kong," says Kyvetos, who is about to open a store in Sydney's CBD.
For architect Rodney Eggleston and graphic designer Anne-Laure Cavigneaux, directors of March Studio, the brief was relatively undefined. Given Sneakerboy isn't the usual retail fit-out, with defined point-of-sale counter (every purchase is through a card or phone), the concept required looking "outside the box".
March Studio certainly delivered a one-off design, with thousands of components, including steel shelves, used. The main display area, visible from the street, is more akin to the sharemarket, with tickers informing customers about each sneaker. But past the main thoroughfare, the store morphs into a more private space, conceived as one large change room.
"We surrounded ourselves with sneakers while we were designing. One of the Zanotti designs provided some of the inspiration," says Eggleston, holding up a futuristic, but slightly retro sneaker (think Daft Punk).
Even before one enters the "inner sanctum", referred to as the change room, a one-tonne steel door, lined with sneakers on steel shelves, closes, with just the tip of a finger. And here's where the real experience starts. Customers sit on futuristic pod-like chairs, complete with attached iPads. They can then explore the stock, which includes more than 300 sneakers, as well as T-shirts and sweat shirts. Those struggling with technology can ask for help from staff.
"It's a different model to retail fit-outs. Most retail stores allocate 40 per cent of the floor area to a stockroom. This isn't part of our requirements, since most of the shoes are held in our Hong Kong office," says Kyvetos, who not only saw an opportunity to take a different direction on the retail front, but also on the fashion side.
"There's definitely been a strong shift to younger consumers looking for luxury, but more casual fashion. Design houses such as Dior, Balenciaga and Lanvin have been appealing to this demographic for the last few years," Kyvetos says.
The other trend has been to create retail environments that provide a sense of discovery.
In the case of Sneakerboy, the change room is framed with a wall of glass bricks. This allows for northern light, but also screens passers-by from looking in.
"In here, you feel like you're in a 'library of shoes' rather than books. But instead of pages, you're scrolling through screens," Kyvetos says.