Napoleon once described England as 'a nation of shopkeepers'. He meant this term scornfully, but shops are a foundation of life and have far greater value and potential than Bonaparte understood. They are a living, evolving system of interaction and transaction between people and the things they need in life from the basic to the most sophisticated.
One of my first great shopping discoveries was a store called ZONA located on Greene Street in the then lowbrow neighbourhood of SOHO in New York around 1986. This beautiful shop offered a complete sensory experience. The lovingly edited mixture of objects from all over the world with their handwritten labels describing the provenance and story behind each one, the sunlit studio in the back of the store, the evocative music and the smells of incense all created a complete and captivating environment. For me the experience was rich and heady and more nuanced than the museums and art galleries I had marched around.
Good shops are a theatre of display, merchandising, sensual notes and service experiences without any of the formality of more orthodox cultural events. Since ZONA (which sadly closed in the nineties) other favorites shops include Ted Muelling and De Vera in New York, Corso Como 10 and G. Lorenzi in Milan, and the sense of history and opulence of the great flagship shops of Paris such as Chanel at 31 rue Cambon and Hermes on rue du Faubourg St Honore. These have all been inspirations for the never-ending work of creating and detailing the merchandise and environment in my own shops.
The Four Seasons shopfront
The Mandarin Oriental shopfront