To encounter art in Mayfair, one doesn’t need to go far. A little stroll around the capital’s primary shopping district will be enough to see a myriad of store windows dressed in spectacular ways, each one of them priding themselves on their unique store fronts.
The large windows of Uruguayan designer Gabriela Hearst, encourages passers-by to peek inside the store’s arty interior. The display at Roksanda, on the other hand, is like a V&A exhibition in itself, placing original artwork by ceramic sculptor Irina Razumovskaya alongside Serbian founder Roksanda llinčić’s beautifully dressed mannequins. While on bustling New Bond Street, Louis Vuitton currently welcomes customers with spotted cobalt blue flags in the style of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
Gone are the days of simply relying on great customer service and a neatly presented shop window – art is soon becoming the new retailer must-have.
But just how special is the relationship between art and fashion, in London’s wealthiest playground?
One creative who appreciates the world of art within his business plan, is British designer Paul Smith. He also happens to be an active curator himself and owns an enviable art collection. If you were to visit one of Smith’s namesake boutiques, all have traces of artistry in the interior design.
But one can’t help but notice the Albemarle Street flagship offers such an array of artworks and design objects that it could easily compete with luxury Sotheby’s around the corner.
After entering the store, customers are first welcomed with the boutique’s designated exhibition space before making their way to clothes themselves. Having developed close relationships with many artists over the course of his 50-year- long career, Smith and his dedicated art team aim to provide a platform for up-and-coming artists.
It’s worth noting, until 7 May 2023, Albemarle Street store visitors will be greeted by the colourful artworks of British mosaic artist Charlie Sheppard. Entitled Half-Full, the latest exhibition showcases artworks that feel optimistic and warm, and it is easy to see how this joyfulness and curiosity are integral aspects of Paul Smith’s brand DNA, too.
Another recent art project whose artistic direction was led by Smith is the immersive exhibition entitled Picasso Celebration: The Collection In A New Light at the Musée Picasso Paris, curated by the museum’s president Cécile Debray and Joanne Snrech.
The exhibition is the designer’s personal interpretation of Picasso’s extensive artistic legacy which allows its viewers to not only appreciate the artworks in new and unexpected ways, but to also gain insight into how Smith uses them as a source of inspiration for his own creative practice. This is evident in the fact that the exhibition also features artworks of contemporary artists who have been influenced by Picasso as well.
Engagement with the art world is what makes Paul Smith’s USP. An invaluable asset in not only shaping the brand’s reputation, but can also help to significantly broaden its customer base.
For instance, the lower ground floor of the Mayfair boutique is filled with vintage furniture and interior design objects curated by Béton Brut, a design gallery and studio led by Sophie Pearce, a British furniture dealer. Its residency at Albemarle Street is a part of London Design Festival’s 20th anniversary celebrations, but the collaboration appears so effortless that it could easily become a permanent department at the boutique.
“Some customers are aware of the collection, but even those who aren’t, are equally delighted to browse it,” explains Jamie, shop assistant at Paul Smith.
“Artworks tend to sell faster than furniture, but the assortment is constantly being refreshed,” he says. With art objects scattered all around, customers can purchase anything they see in the store, for example, an original Picasso sketch hanging above the shop counter or Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures perched among shoes and bags.
Just around the corner from the Paul Smith’s store, the Acne Studios boutique on 13 Dover Street emanates the subtle allure of an art gallery with an original Jean Cocteau artwork hanging on the wall for all passers-by to see. As it turns out, the space used to be an art gallery which comes as no surprise considering its central Mayfair location.
“When designing the interior of the boutique, it was important for Jonny Johansson, our creative director, to keep the authentic feel of the space and respect its history,” explains Lucie, shop assistant at Acne Studios. Therefore, not much was done to alter the original floor planning, and even the arrangement of the brand products on concrete blocks mimics that of an art exposition. A true hidden gem is the mysterious staircase at the top floor that covers the previous flight of stairs but leads to nowhere. The most striking interior design element can be found on the womenswear’s shop floor – three paintings by illustrator Jeremiah Goodman depicting Johansson’s studio in Stockholm.
The Dover Street boutique is completely different to other Acne Studios’ locations which are more futuristic and minimalistic.
Here in Mayfair, art truly serves as inspiration and enhancement of the space, and this philosophy applies to the brand’s ethos, too. Beyond fashion, creative director Johansson’s endeavours to cover topics such as music, art, culture, and more, and to assemble all his inspirations, explorations, and collaborations, Acne Studios publishes a bi-annual magazine entitled Acne Paper. The magazine, placed on a vintage yellow piano next to the store entrance, could easily pass as a coffee-table-book-turned-interior-design-element, and is available for purchase for £40.
While art galleries may be exhibiting contemporary art pieces, the traditions of art in Mayfair remain as strong as ever, and other brands wanting to capitalise on its wealthy artistic footfall, will have to take this fact into consideration.
For fashion creatives, however, this is excellent news, as collaboration, expression, and artistry have always been the forces that make the industry thrive and excel. So, keep an eye out for the next chapter in this interdependent love story and get ready for limitless creativity.