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John Ryan

Muji’s Danish Debut Challenges Norms

Japanese retailer Muji has chosen to open a shop-in-shop for its Danish debut. But why?

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IF WERE YOU to open a new store in a new market, would you choose the premises of another retailer to make your debut? Possibly not, yet that is what Japanese “no-brand” retailer Muji (Tokyo) has opted to do as it welcomed shoppers to its first Danish store this month.

The Muji store is in Illum, a grand department store in the heart of the Danish capital. Yet again, the question that might be asked is whether being on the fourth floor of a large retail space in Copenhagen is a good idea if you really want to grab attention. The Muji shop-in-shop, because that is what this is, measures just shy of 22,000 square feet, making it bigger not only than many standalone Muji outposts, but large enough for it to be almost impossible to ignore if you find yourself in Illum.

Which is rather the point. Illum is a standard-bearer department store for Denmark and, as such, it attracts impressive foot traffic. Now consider the size. Space of this magnitude would be hard to come by in almost any downtown area of a major city, yet it is possible in Illum.

Muji has made few compromises as far as design is concerned, with repurposed timbers taken from a variety of sites around Denmark, “eco-plaster” (a material made from other recycled materials) to render the front of the shop-in-shop and a tea room in which Japanese goodies can be sampled, Muji’s first in Europe. This adds up to a Japanese experience in a store that is renowned for being a champion of Scandi design. Yet there is a certain synergy between the spare minimalism of Danish design and the Japanese aesthetic.

Perhaps there is sense then in what’s been done. This is a marriage of design cultures and both sides stand to benefit. It is also another resounding clarion call for physical retail, which far from being dead is taking a long hard look at what should and should not be done. Working with another retailer may be one way forward.

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John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.

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