By Patrisha Zabrycki
Retail design ought to inspire, not illicit yawns amid fluorescent lighting and clinical counters. The rise in cyber shopping is eroding brick-and-mortar sales, and retailers are tasked with creating stimulating shopping environments. With a culture steeped in digital obsession, how can dispensaries evolve to utilize the changing retail landscape to their advantage? One way to mind the gap between online and offline shopping is by crafting a memorable and personal in-store shopping experience. Enter Kirk Originals.
The ravishing Kirk Originals flagship emerged a year ago on iconic Conduit Street in Central London. With a dark interior and modern art aesthetic, this shop redefines the art of selling eyewear. Purposefully steering clear of the typical retail atmosphere, Jason Kirk challenges the very idea of optical dispensing with his freshly minted boutique.
It was 20 years ago that Kirk stumbled across a cache of his grandfather’s frame designs: “I grew up in an optical family. My Grandfather, Sidney, was instrumental in growing the optical industry in the UK in the 1920s and my Dad, his brothers and cousins were all opticians. I had no interest at all in this ‘dry, conservative profession’ until one day, helping my Dad clear out his practice, I found several hundred of my Grandpa Sidney’s optical designs from the ’50s and ’60s.” Inspired by his findings, Kirk decided to leave his post at L’Oreal and take up the family business.
A brand as conceptually unique as Kirk Originals with its dastardly bold colorations, holographic temple graphics and expressive frame shapes, makes controlling the brand’s image a challenge. Kirk realized that opening a shop of his own would give him the most creativity in conveying the product’s distinctive voice. “As a brand reliant on other people to communicate our message to the consumer, we were frustrated. However good the retailer is, we are dependent on our message being conveyed accurately and clearly. There is so much history, product information, fun to be imparted and with the best will in the world, we cannot be sure that the optician will fully train his team, and that they will be as motivated as us to communicate in the same way as we do,” says Kirk.
Number of locations 1
An energy-inducing atmosphere with a focus on playful design.
Thus the idea to open a Kirk Originals flagship was born. Partnering with innovative design outfit Campaign Design, armed with big ideas and a modest budget, Kirk and his team set out to make a wholly different, fascinating and witty retail environment. Kirk says, “Breaking down the barriers between fashion and optics is a challenge but hinges on the shopping experience. That starts before you enter the store and continues after you leave. We wanted the personality of the glasses to show through. We want people to love shopping for eyewear.”
When working on the initial plans for this retail space Kirk recalls, “We started by listing the traditional physical aspects of a retail optician, and we made sure that none of them appeared on our shopping list—no shelves, no white walls, no bright lights. We wanted movement, dynamism, the personality of the glasses to show through.” Kirk continues, “The aim of the shop is to make going to the optician fun. Working closely with Campaign Design in London, we threw away the optical rule book and asked how we would enjoy shopping for eyewear. At the root of this is that most people’s experience of getting glasses is dull, medical and uninspiring. It is more akin to going to the dentist than having an hour in Fred Segal or Barneys.”
Kirk’s distinctive brand of British humor is immediately apparent from the street. Customers and passersby are treated to a visual feast, “a window of lenticular eyes that move and follow you as you walk in front of and into the store,” according to Kirk. This attention-grabbing window display instantly sets the scene for the kind of quirky shopping experience that waits inside. The shop’s layout recalls the surreptitious feeling of residing in a child’s kaleidoscope—mounted eyewear displays pop playfully off the monochrome walls; bright, bold colors of Kirk Originals frames shout brilliantly against the gray and black interior. Kirk says, “The space is uncluttered and the glasses are given plenty of space, each frame is displayed on a ‘winky,’ a specially designed presentation with eyes that show the frame in action. At the back of the long, gallery-like space is a moving projection which sometimes shows an interpretation of our logo, sometimes abstract films, but always movement. The tone is relaxed and friendly, fashionable and far from medical.” Design bureau Campaign wanted to steer clear of the typically bright and white optician’s office, thus the agency made a bold statement by blanketing the entire store in dark tones. Freeing the frames from their typical cage-like, track lighted display cases and affixing product to protruding structures adds a sense of animated whimsy to the glasses, and gives this traditionally inanimate object human-like qualities.
Kirk’s efforts to buck the archetype of the stark and sterile optical dispensary setting are being recognized in the design world. The Kirk Originals outpost was recently listed alongside major companies like Apple and Nike in a survey by Business Insider aptly titled “11 Insanely Cool Flagship Stores.” The store and its designers also collected the London International Creative Competition Interior Design Award, a prestigious industry award. With industry accolades and positive press streaming in, it’s no wonder Kirk looks to the future. “I hope that in a year’s time we will be able to tell you how our first U.S. store is doing,” he says.
To keep the store environment playful Kirk notes, “We test eyes downstairs so the two aspects of our business are separated. This is not to diminish the medical side but just to keep it apart so that the shopping experience is pure fun and it can be ‘assumed’ that the medical experience will maintain the highest standards.” There is also prescription service in the basement as well as sunglasses and an edit of other eyewear brands from guest designers whose work complements the Kirk Originals appeal. The store currently carries The Leisure Society from Shane Baum and the Parisian range Undostrial.
With a fantastically eccentric approach to eyewear that for some stateside clients may feel a bit too British to be fully appreciated, Kirk counters that his conceptual aesthetic would certainly “thrive outside of Europe precisely because it is unique and precisely because it has a European flavor. In every location there is an audience of people who seek to be a little different, to not wear the same as everyone else.” This desire to be different, to consistently change the perception of optical is the mantra of this opti-original. The Kirk Originals retail experience stamps out the blandness of the typical optical shop and hews closer to a lively jaunt through the fashion heavy streets of Soho, eyes wide and inspiration sparked. Kirk reiterates his mission, “It is all about the relationship with the consumer and our goal was, and remains, to demystify optics.”
The Kirk Originals flagship embodies the future of retailing—alluring, interactive environments, which shake the oculus and entice the consumer. ■