A Retail Enthusiast | An Interview with Luca Calcamucchio

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To keep up with retail design trends, you truly need to have an addiction for it. When it comes to Italian Architect, Luca Calcamucchio, MiND found not only a big passion for retail but also a contagious energy and an enviable enthusiasm in sharing his strong view on how the store experience is evolving.

From the jewelry industry to the skincare and beauty industry, his approach is loud and clear: Retail is a whole experience, online and offline, and it will never die.

Can you tell us about your background? What brought you to your current role at Charlotte Tilbury?

When I was very young, I decided I wanted to be an architect. I studied Architecture between Milan and Delft, in Holland, and then I did a master in Interior Design at the IED in Turin. Along the way, I discovered many other passions like marketing, communication, business, etc. I was a kind of sponge trying to absorb as much as I could.

During my studies I was working for some department stores in Milan and the thing I enjoyed the most was the daily contact with the customers. When I had to decide where to focus my career, retail design was indeed the perfect choice. It is the perfect blend of art, design, architecture, business, communication… Retail is so fast and never static. You have to re-invent yourself all the time and get out from your comfort zone.

Charlotte Tilbury Store in Dubai Mall, Dubai, designed by Luca and his team.

Customers habits are in constant evolution and this energy of continuous changes keeps me enchanted. I started my career in the watches and jewels market, working before in brands and later on for a design company based in Barcelona. I moved there in 2005 with a 6 months contract and those 6 months became 12 years! After my experience in the design company I decided I wanted to come back to brands, and I had the privilege to join the Puig Group (a Catalan multinational company owning brands like Carolina Herrera, Paco Rabanne, Jean Paul Gaultier, Nina Ricci and licensing fragrance for Prada, Valentino and Comme des Garçons).

During the 10 years I spent with them I hold different positions, at the beginning only in charge for the architectural image of Carolina Herrera, Prada and Comme des Garçons Parfumes and later on becoming responsible for the entire brand portfolio, both in store design, VM, corporate events, etc. commuting regularly between Barcelona and Paris. It was my first truly global work, allowing me to travel all around the world knowing the markets, suppliers, consumers habits, etc.

8 years later I decided it was time to move, I needed a new challenge and to know a different business model. In 2015 Puig acquired two niche fragrance brands based in London, Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur. In 2016 I moved to London as Point of Sale Excellence Director for these two brands, working on the relaunch of their point of sale image worldwide and setting the bases for their future growth.

Few months ago I received a call from a headhunter who was interested in my profile. She proposed me this job for Charlotte Tilbury which I knew because her point of sale is absolutely revolutionary for the makeup industry, so I decided to leave my previous company and take the challenge to join a record breaking 5 years old start up. Even if I have more than 10 years’ experience in the beauty industry, the makeup world is totally new to me and I am having a lot of fun trying to discover all its secrets!

In your role as a store design and VM director, how do you find the balance between creativity and business strategy?

Our role is always complicated and our market one of the fastest:  from one side we need to  create brand value, being  storytellers, engage with the customers on different levels and create a unique, coherent and consistent shopping experience offline and online. On the other side we need to deliver profitability, design a seamless journey not only for the customers but also for the store staff, being aware of the entire retail operational side. A store must be enjoyable not only for the customers but also for the people working in it. Achieving all these goals sometimes is complicated so we work very closely with all the different functions in the company: from marketing to business development, from markets to operations, trying to make priorities and always working together.

Penhaligon’s store at Century city Mall, Los Angeles, USA, designed by Luca and his team.

It is very important to listen and learn from your colleagues and understand their needs. Sometimes the creative side can be predominant (for instance in flagship installations) other times can be the business / commercial side. You have to choose your battles. The important thing is always to have clear to whom we are talking to and be true to the brand DNA. On the VM side, for windows, creativity it is absolutely  important not only in the design part, but also in scaling the model and trying the most efficient way to produce it. You have only 3 seconds to deliver a message in a window and seduce the shopper, hence every single element must be carefully studied to achieve this goal. A mistake in a window can cause immediate drop of traffic and consequently a drop of sales.

I consider myself a storyteller, as a designer I have my own language which sometimes doesn’t necessarily match the brand I am working for, but I like to transform and challenge myself , putting on the shoes of the creator and give my own interpretation of the house codes. I see the creation as a co-creation with my whole team. Everyone has a different experience, different sensitivity and different skills that can enrich the project.

"I want my spaces creating any kind of emotions, good or bad ones: I prefer a customer telling me that a project is rubbish, rather than doing something average that nobody will remember."

Charlotte Tilbury Pop UP at Lane Crawford, IFC Hong Kong, designed by Luca and his team.

Everyone is talking about “the death of retail” with the major shift to online. How does this affect your approach to store design and visual merchandising?

I do not believe in the death of retail, because I consider RETAIL as a WHOLE, online and offline, so it will never die. What we can see is a transformation of the high street retail, of the bricks and mortar, but it is an exciting revolution, moving from Point of Sale to Point of Experience. I always loved the idea that we are one channel versus omnichannel. The customer is only one, so we are, it doesn’t matter where they shop. In my bricks&clicks approach I work integrating technology on 3 different levels:

TO ENGAGE: technology can create engagement and interaction with the shoppers, create retailtainment, boosting social media and achieve more brand awareness. All our spaces are designed to be instagrammable, we check the space though the lenses of a mobile phone, making sure our clients can capture all the elements that can be extremely exciting for them and meaningful for us. Through the use of a CMS we can stimulate the senses of our customers: music, lights, smells can be adapted according to the time of the day and to the customer profile that is visiting that store in that specific moment. VR can be used to create amazing experiences, both for external customers at the point of sales or internal clients. For instance we use VR to approve the most important stores with the senior stakeholders.

"Stores can listen and can talk, they can tell us a lot of useful insights on our customers and their shopping habits."

Penhaligon’s store at Harrods Salon de Parfums, London, designed by Luca and his team.

TO DISCOVER: Back in 2014 for another brand, I started lunching smart furniture: these backwall could detect the traffic in the store at 3 different levels through a specific antenna, they could also detect gender and the group of age. We could also detect each tester and each product they were interacting with to analyse if the packaging was attractive or not. Through RFID each time the customer was touching the tester, a specific content was displayed on screen to deep dive into the universe of that product. In the future specific sensors on the shelves will advise the operation team if the stock is becoming too low and create auto replenishment. All the data received were monitored in specific dashboards we could filter from hours to month to perfectly understand the behaviour of that point of sale and react immediately to a bad performance. Consumer insighths are absolutely important for a retail designer.

"Whatever we design impacts the life of someone else."

TO IMPROVE OPERATIONS: If VR is maybe more oriented to a kind of engagement, AI can definitely help to get consumer insights, discover habits and patterns and consequently optimise operations and make every process smoother. I worked on several projects like digital profiling, interactive platforms, etc. Working on an integrated AI project that can be available online and offline will help to merge the 2 universes offering the same experience and the same customer journey. It is all about to keep our customer within the brand ecosystem, it doesn’t matter where they shop, all we have to do is pushing traffic from online to offline and vice versa.

Also, many pure online  players are opening brick and mortar stores, sometimes unmanned “grab and go”  like Amazon Go in Seattle, Chinese JD.ID X in Indonesia, WeChat pop up in Shanghai, but also real high street stores like Glossier in Los Angeles. Sometimes the lack of a tangible experience can be a challenge for a bigger growth.

Charlotte Tilbury Beauty Wonderland Pop Up at Dubai Mall, Dubai, designed by Luca and his team.

Although people say retail is dying, it is not. Offline provides you an experience that online is not providing yet, it will get there. But especially in the beauty market, testing is really king. But tomorrow the technology will even create more fantastic experience, you can go to store for a bit longer then now, either virtually or physically. So we are talking about artificial intelligence. You can find your make-up on your face now, many brands are doing that, this is already accepted but the possibility to really touch the product and feel the texture is something different.

How do you incorporate the brand’s motto and values into your designs?

I am a very positive person and I am lucky enough to work now for a brand who expresses positivism, good energy and at the same time a strong belief in challenging the status quo of the beauty industry. We challenge absolutely everything and everybody, every rule, every restrictions. Our “Beauty Wonderland” is exactly the expression of all of this. A starship that lands into the stores to bring happiness and positivism: engaging, accessible and enjoyable. We brought back fun in the makeup industry, populated by other fantastic brands but that made another choice, they  prefer to keep a more neutral or distant approach towards their consumers. I like my designs to be as much as inclusive as possible, I love seeing people interact and enjoy them, either if I design for an affordable brand or a luxury one.

It is said that, “without music, life would be a mistake”. What would you replace ‘music’ with to make that statement true for you?

Travelling! I lived in 4 different countries (for the moment) and who knows what’s going to happen in the future. I am on an airplane almost every week and I cannot stop. I am eager to discover new places, new cities, new cultures, I am naturally extremely curious and I cannot get enough. It is not just the place where I am going, it is the moment to get there that I enjoy. Keep me close in an office for an entire month and I will probably die!

By: Elena Parise & Merve Durmus