Inspiration is a powerful tool; it comes in handy when you are in involved in shaping a brand’s identity. Samar Younes, currently the Global Visual Director at Coach, uses the intense inspiration found in her daily life and combines it with her 15 plus years of retail experience to fully immerse the consumers’ senses in a three dimensional expression of brand identity. It is with the knowledge as a curator, advisor, and strategist that she is able to enhance the retail creative initiatives in the stores and windows of global brands.
Samar’s experience in retail design started at Anthropologie where she worked for 9 years, delivering hand crafted, artisan, award winning windows and interior art installations, all while establishing continual and ‘inspirational’ customer touch points along the way. She then found her home at Coach for the last three years. Since she has been there, Samar has submerged herself in the revival of the American heritage brand, producing unique and ever evolving window displays on an international level.
“Personally, I never thought I would end up in retail. I studied architecture initially and theater design at St Martins in London. I was always interested in temporary architecture and art installations or interventions in public spaces. I always thought art should be about provoking an emotion and engaging people in a way beyond the ‘typical’ setting of a museum. So I wanted to find a way to connect to temporary architecture in a sense that it becomes experimental. In retail design and VM, I am engaging consumers in an installation, experimenting and allowing the designs to enable them to anticipate, participate and linger. It is a 360 degree immersion.”
At Coach, Samar’s path is to design display art that can work in multiple windows and multiple stores. At new and renovated stores, they focus on the re-platforming of Coach, molding it to a ‘modern’ luxury brand. Most noticeably, the windows are pushing the boundaries to be more unique and authentic – focused on the new modern luxury feel – while others stay true to Coach’s original heritage feel. Samar explains that this balance and the big changes at Coach make it a truly exciting place to work, showcasing creativity and true strategic design talent.
“I am engaging consumers in an installation, experimenting and allowing the designs to enable them to anticipate, participate and linger.”
“I value taking on collaborative and integrated ways to create excitement, drive social engagement, and generate brand demand, with thoughtful, out of the box innovative ideas.”
Through her experience in retail, Samar uses creativity and unique initiatives to turn the window displays and in store experiences into works of art. This is key as consumers look to be engaged on an emotive level and must be interested enough to shop in stores. Without this, the idea of shopping in stores would lose its appeal and consumers would only buy online.
“I always viewed retail and visual merchandising as art. Obviously business and strategy are as important as perfecting one’s core craft but at the end of the day, it is the first impression of the brand when you walk in. Yes, the product is desirable and exciting but you can buy that product online, via phone, thru an app, etc… Suddenly, stores take on a renewed important mission, getting the customer excited, engaged and immersed by the physical experience of your brand. So it is more about the experience and how they perceive the brand. We want to engage them on an emotive level.”
“I always viewed retail and visual merchandising as art.”
Samar truly has a unique view on retail, seeing it more as an artistic expression while using an organic approach to creating unique and bespoke installations.
“I’m interested in merging the world of retail with art and design. I want to do this through exploring ephemeral temporary art interventions and new technologies married with old craftsmanship in unexpected and unusual places for a true experiential multi-dimensional perspective of a brand.”
Samar notes that collaborating is extremely important whether it is with well-known artists or smaller, unique artist. Brands, particularly retailers, have the power to shine the spotlight on smaller or emerging artists. It gives brands the opportunity to highlight and acknowledge the amazing artisans’ mediums that have been passed along through generations.
“You know there are so many fascinating artistry and mediums globally that are dissipating because of the big industries that have taken over. But you can use amazing artisans and help maintain their art by collaborating with them even if it’s on only one specific initiative. It allows us to be authentic and true on how we want our brand to be perceived. Sometimes collaborating with large artist is just as rewarding as collaborating with unique, smaller artisans and it’s incredible to have the opportunity to do both at times.”
Today, brands go way beyond the retail store, creating a unique experience on a human level, pulling and connecting them more deeply to their particular brand: “With more competition, social media and the digital age, all of a sudden, you need to keep reinventing memorable brand experiences.”
“The consumer […] craves authentic, personalized, and relevant experiences.”
They are reinventing themselves, bringing back the idea of lifestyle to the brand. But as Samar notes, it can’t all be the same solution.
“What works with you might not work for someone else. What works for the millennial might not work with everyone else. Nowadays you can’t be cookie cutter, it is impossible. The consumer is overwhelmed with choices and is much more educated about what they want. They crave authentic, personalized, and relevant experiences. You need to be more unexpected and continuously different. Brands are working overtime to reach a young generation that wants to be a part of the creative process. They want to co-create, they want to co-collaborate and they want to share – on social media with each other. So if they are interacting with your brand – if they can customize or feel like they are a part of the design or if they can co-design the windows, then it’s a win-win. Every single brand is bending over backwards to cater to them because they are a huge part of the fashion landscape and the future trend setters.”
And with the opportunity of digital technologies whether it’s in store or social media, there are even more ways to allow consumers to be a part of the retail experience.
“You can really invite consumers to co-create and interact just purely by having a digital platform, whether it’s augmented reality in the windows or interactivity in the store, they can definitely be a huge part of it. It is so exciting when you think about the future prospects and what could be offered, with co-creation, collaboration and interactivity.”
These ideas of collaborating and interacting stem from a place of Samar’s passions in social responsibility. She is focused on philanthropy and raising awareness for issues on both her professional and personal platforms.
“How can we design from the start so that our designs will have another life beyond it. How can it not just be landfill?”
“I think the most important thing is raising awareness on whatever platform you can obtain. Even when designing, our team talks about how we can design from the start in a way that our designs will have another life beyond it. How can it not just be landfill? There is a great opportunity for social responsibility and for brand’s to decide what message consumers should take away from their brand. Next time, consider your design strategy, and what is it achieving? How is it complimenting the social agenda of your brand, of your city etc.? Not that we are all philanthropic, but if you want to think about being satisfied in a career and feeling empowered… there needs to be a deeper motivation. Nowadays, a creative director can have a curatorial role, acting as a mastermind, a mobilizer, and stimulator for brands. It’s a role that can connects art, business, design disciplines as well as smart social or lifestyle agendas for an ultimate, fulfilled consumer experience.
Cover photo courtesy of Pedro Motta