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Eye of the Beholder

Beauty and skincare brands are innovating to create must-have in-store experiences




In an age when beauty tutorial videos proliferate on social media, retailers are meeting customers on their terms for aspirational, hands-on experiences where achieving trendsetting looks is as important as learning about the products. Leveraging consultation areas, online sharing opportunities and in-store technology, the beauty retail sector is setting the tone for the next iteration of omnichannel, wherein a store visit becomes personal and not simply a trip to make a purchase.

Eye of the Beholder
Photography: Andy Townsend, London

Seoul, South Korea’s Aritaum isn’t your average beauty store – it’s more like stepping up to a beauty blogger’s vanity. The roughly 970-square-foot space is a playground for makeup inspiration and guidance, where shoppers can browse, play, test and get ready for a night out, and its merchandising strategy drives the fantasy.

Designed by Dalziel and Pow (London), the space is organized into five editorial-style displays showcasing sought-after cosmetics used in show-stopping examples visible on digital in-store communications. To position influential moments that manifest across multiple brands, including the Aritaum house label, the designers opted for a sleek, monochromatic black mesh scheme that allows the vibrancy of the products to stand out while maintaining a uniform look.

One of the project’s primary goals was to incorporate social media, which it did with its Instagrammable Atelier Feature Wall, where customers can apply a variety of playful backgrounds to in-store selfies that show off beauty looks and can be shared with Aritaum’s online community.

“We highlight the benefit of talking to the customer as a trusted friend,” says Juan Diaz del Castillo, Design Team Leader, Interiors, Dalziel and Pow. Digital tablets are connected to the Atelier Table, where shoppers can experiment with products and play video clips to guide their own beauty creations. “A positive, vibrant, in-the-know voice,” as Castillo describes it, is what makes Aritaum an experiential destination.


Eye of the Beholder
Photography: Arthur Mola, Toronto

At Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, L’Occitane en Provence (Paris) is imbued with an ethereal floral motif that includes a striking ceiling element of silk peonies, roses and verbena leaves, reflective of its products’ botanical ingredients. Designers communicated a strong brand identity in their use of the skincare and fragrance company’s unmistakable goldenrod-yellow hue.

The team of designers from L’Occitane and design agency School House (New York), aimed to present to shoppers the brand’s persona, not just its products, by creating subtle moments of connection for customers spanning generations and levels of preferred engagement.

Sinks placed along each wall allow customers to stop and sample products in the moment, as they are discovered, and the Skincare Bistro, the shop’s trial zone, provides an expert-guided (or self-exploratory, if preferred) spot for customers to test five “hero” products at the bar. The store’s immersive, nature-inspired design – with earthy fragrances, rain-shower sinks and a sun-like lighting installation that adapts to the actual time-of-day color temperature – projects its all-natural philosophy without being overt.

“By experiencing product in a dissociative way,” explains Christopher Skinner, Founder and Principal of School House, “it allows in-the-moment connection to [a product’s] texture and an undisturbed discovery of its sensorial cues that might otherwise be overlooked in standard product trialing.”

Eye of the Beholder
Photography: Stefan Irvine, Hong Kong


When luxury brand Sulwhasoo, a Seoul, South Korea-based skincare retailer with a 50-year heritage, decided to open a store in Guangzhou, China, maintaining its classic aesthetic and projecting its use of historic Korean skincare ingredient ginseng was important, but so was meeting its clientele in a modern, educational environment.

Tying together heritage and a forward-thinking retail strategy was the greatest challenge, says Christian Lahoude, Founder and Creative Director, Christian Lahoude Studio (New York).

“Beauty is unique in that, at a time when people default to e-commerce for much of their shopping needs, they still enjoy the experience of testing cosmetics, skincare and perfume in search of the perfect product,” explains Lahoude. “That said, technology is always a major factor in regards to reaching new and existing clients.”

To unify the two worlds, designers used digital screens that are visible to mall-going passersby to convey the brand’s philosophy of cultivating raw ingredients for its high-end products, while projecting an updated store design that features ceiling-suspended glass ginseng blossoms and contemporary dark slate materials with gold accents, emphasizing consultation and trial.

Eye of the Beholder
Photography: Arthur Mola, Toronto

One reason beauty brands continue to attract footfall in stores, says New York-based David Asfour, VP of CallisonRTKL (Baltimore), is because the beauty sector is “deeply personal,” and something shoppers will continue to venture out to experience firsthand. He says the biggest challenge for retailers in the space is the fast-paced nature of the sector, emphasizing that to be successful over time, they must continue to innovate.


“The challenge is as much about the product as it is the in-store experience, speed to sale, ease of self-navigating, and of course, the social media share,” says Asfour. And while all of those aspects are essential, he explains, hands-on, interactive zones that offer human touchpoints will remain vital to setting the store experience apart from online. 



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Presented by:
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