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Fashion in Motion

Primark’s Madrid flagship marries early 20th Century architecture with 21st Century digital

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Gran Vía, a culturally significant thoroughfare in Madrid, is home to retailers like Zara, H&M and Pull & Bear, among many others. A natural move for one of the most prominent value retailers forging its international presence, Primark has become one of the bustling avenue’s most recent residents, making its big arrival evident despite the street’s saturated marketplace.

Housed in the historic Almacenes Madrid-Paris department store building, built in 1923, Primark’s Madrid flagship spans four floors and encompasses 133,000 square feet. Upon entering, shoppers are enveloped by the building’s massive atrium, as they step into the “Trend Room” on the ground floor. Here, curated selections of the retailer’s goods are on display. This area acts as a showcase for the products, effectively suggesting purchases based on current product lines and pairings, but most importantly, it’s a functional solution to the building’s lack of store windows.

While the lack of show windows may toll the death knell for some high street retailers, London-based design firm Dalziel and Pow, which designed this and several other Primark flagships, brought the focus of the store inward, developing an awe-inspiring interior package that would pull customers in.

“[Gran Vía] is what we call a very ‘shouty’ street; all the retailers are competing for attention, so it has lots of big screens, and it’s quite loud and brash,” says Sarah Fairhurst, design director, Dalziel and Pow. “Since [this store] has no street presence (in the form of a store window), we had to create a concept that was really inspired by that, so that’s why we came up with this ‘urban oasis.’ It’s about getting people off the street and into the space, and it’s very different from the rest of [the avenue’s retail].”

The store strikes a harmonious balance between its classic Spanish architecture and its added interactive features. Known for using digital elements in many of its recent stores, Primark sought to include equally impressive technology in its new flagship.

Actively avoiding, “digital for digital’s sake,” explains Andy Piepenstock, design director, interiors, Dalziel and Pow,  the goal was to design a concept that would appropriately complement the site’s architecture. “It’s about giving something back to the customer that is impactful and feels inventive, but not just for the sake of it,” he says.

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The store’s unusual layout, which includes views of each floor from the ground level, motivated the use of 11 transparent LED screens, strategically placed around the octagonal atrium, creating what the design firm describes as “retail theater.” But prototyping the screens and developing their content was no small feat.

“We had a screen shipped and installed in our office in London, prototyped, vetted all the content here, and then we were very hands-on in terms of the whole process because it has never been done on this scale,” says Fairhurst.

Along with specifying the materials, the designers dedicated hundreds of hours to content creation, which included writing the soundtrack, working on-site with sound engineers to perfect the acoustics in the wide-open space, and shooting the campaign footage, which all had to be photographed in front of a green screen, so backgrounds could be keyed out later for transparency.

Several types of content play on the screens, including social media messaging, seasonal-specific campaigns, local narrative content and animated maps of Madrid. Since Primark can have up to 100 new product lines on any given day, content had to be general enough so customers wouldn’t look to the screens only to find the products pictured had become unavailable.

To highlight, rather than overshadow, the site’s admirable architecture, the LED screens playfully interact with the landmark building’s unique features. “[We designed it] so it looks like the models are walking through the space, and we’ve used the architecture to tell the story,” explains Fairhurst. “So there’s kids running through the space and hiding behind the columns and throwing balls between the different screens on the different floors.”

In true Primark fashion, the Madrid location includes location-specific details – as it has done with its other sites – in the form of bespoke artwork from recognizable Madrid artists, who added a local narrative to the space. Although artwork is incorporated into other Primark stores, it’s hardly a one-size-fits-all approach.

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“[Primark] is probably best described as a global brand acting locally,” says Piepenstock. “It really strives to create something [unique] in each destination it goes to,” adds Fairhurst.

Sourcing the artists was a collaborative effort between the design firm and Madrid-based fashion consultancy O’Shea & Moro, which works with Primark in its Spanish ventures. Featured local artwork includes large-scale photography, installations and hand-painted phrases, which contain Madrilenian colloquialisms.

While Primark may seem strikingly similar to its fast-fashion counterparts, its dedication to creating innovative in-store environments has set it apart from the pack.

“Fashion and value are what’s expected in a very crowded marketplace; you only need to look at the competition in that area to see that,” says Piepenstock. “It’s the brands selling experiences – even memories – that will stand out. And that’s through great design and great service.” 


See how design firm Dalziel and Pow developed the content for Primark's Madrid flagship below:


Courtesy of Dalziel and Pow, London/Youtube.com

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Photography: Andy Townsend, London

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