With several years of retail experience, architect and designer Nicolas Delefosse worked for different global design agencies as Ora-ito Studio, Interbrand and Saguez & Partners. He has now set up his own creative studio: NDDO, with the aim of creating immersive places, places with a soul that can struck people’s mind.
MiND met Nicolas in Paris to find out more about his experience and his new business venture.
Can you walk us through your background?
I studied architecture in Paris where I met Oraito, a creative mind who started his label one year before. We had no clients at the beginning of our creative studio, so we designed some products for big brands such as Nike or LV and we promoted them on the press. Finally, we received our first product design request. We were invited to work on architectural projects and we designed clubs, hotels, showrooms, and even motorway stations in France. The Ora-ito brand was a niche brand for products, furniture & architecture.
Then I was contacted by Interbrand, an international global branding agency. The scale of work was very different from what I used to do. They hired me as Creative Director of Retail. I worked for different brands such as SFR, Volcom, Dim, Renault, RATP and Moleskine among others, and I had the chance to learn how strategy and creativity can work together to provide effective solutions in retail projects, how to break the rules and push the boundaries. Then I was hired by Saguez & Partners for a special project. They focus a lot on retail and hospitality. I was one of the team of Creative Directors – there are about ten. My job was mainly to imagine mall experiences, to define their positioning, to challenge their habits. I mostly worked for Unibail Rodamco Westfield.
"A memorable space is a unique design with a soul”
There is a shift coming in mall design. We need to keep in mind the “community” we have to serve. It should be more about a local market place with some international elements. Pop-ups are part of it but there should be more around services, entertainment, food, and culture…a mix adjusted to the location. There should be public events like concerts, conferences etc., it doesn’t have to be only commercial-oriented. Places need to be connected to the neighbourhood. For example, Le Cent quatre in Paris, which is more hybrid, is in between inside and outside, where you have restaurants, exhibitions rooms, coworking spaces… and shops. During the weekend you can find people dancing everywhere. This is the type of space that I would love to implement in the future.
With retail’s major shift to online, do you think this is a threat or an opportunity?
I think it’s a threat if you don’t have any idea of how to enlarge the way of thinking for your store. Stores today don’t have to be just stores, they can be restaurants – like Tom Dixon store in Milan – or even escape games, theaters, etc… You have to provide an experience that people can’t find online, legitimate your brand’s values and engage your community. Stores are no longer with a traditional format like they were before. If you don’t have the capacity to reinvent yourself, it is not going to work.
Having worked with many different retail brands, which projects did you like?
About 5 years ago I worked with Volcom. Working for them was really exciting because it has a huge brand content with lots of artistic collaborations. They also produced videos, organized events, and of course, they did apparel. The challenge for me was to gather all those artistic expressions into one space and find the way of keeping them consistent.
Volcom’s brand DNA was “youth against establishments”, so it couldn’t be too marketed or organized. I had to come up with concepts that could be scaled and rolled out worldwide. We spent a lot of time interviewing the brand actors, from the founders to the shopkeepers, to understand the core customers. The first result was the Volcom flagship store in New York, where we created a flexible ‘skateable’ store. We emphasized the assets and the artistic expression that they have in the brand. The main aspect was that we created a space to hang out and meet. We also designed fixtures especially for them, inspired by the logo.
“I like to challenge models, bring art and culture to create singular places”
What is the biggest challenge for smaller brands who are trying to make their mark?
They need to have their own culture and invent their specific rituals to create their proper expressive environment. The key is to translate their personality and values into a space where people can meet. The customer journey has to be creative and the architecture should be unique. But I don’t think that this is enough, I think these places need to be hosted by someone and curated to engage people in the brand community, to bring life and rhythm within the space.
Which cities do you consider avant-garde in terms of retail?
The competition is very tough today. I would say that Asian cities are quite innovative and open… but think about Fischer store in Reykjavik; its multisensorial experience is amazing!
You mentioned that you are planning to open your own design agency. Can you tell us more?
The company name is NDDO (ND Design Office). We help brands and agencies wishing to reinvent uses, we define project’s spirit and create inspiring places. Our main process combines strategy and design and it is able to challenge the brief, taking into account the market and future uses of the project. This is a way to federate teams, to promote internally and externally the project, and to give a direction for a consistent and unique design. Also, this process can be used for all type of projects that aspire to be a clear and inspiring destination (hotel, offices, retail, mall, etc.).
It’s based in Paris, and I have some contacts for the international side. We want to be reactive, not too heavy. We need flexibility, like the retail industry is. In my opinion, you need to have a frame for your brand, and inside this frame you can make some changes. But you still need a clear idea, otherwise things are too hazy and confused to understand the brand identity.
Nicolas’ experience and background allow him to design in an holistic way memorable spaces with a unique signature. MiND would like to wish him good luck with his new Design Agency.