Luxury online fashion platform Ssense is expanding its physical footprint. On May 3, the brand opens the doors to Ssense Montreal, a new five-storey flagship boutique next to the Notre-Dame Basilica. Built in 1866, the heritage building was reimagined by David Chipperfield Architects, which preserved the façade by creating a concrete structure within it. It’s the global firm’s first project in Canada.
A nod to materials used when the city hosted Expo 67, the structure’s rigid concrete form belies the flexibility of the store, which contains a grid system of hidden, convertible sockets that can be configured countless ways with lighting and displays. Perhaps most innovative is the way the space is a physical manifestation of the company’s digital presence, transforming its online efforts into a tangible experience.
Ssense is first and foremost an e-commerce designer-fashion retailer that differentiates itself by selling some of the more avant-garde and over-the-top pieces that rarely make it to other retailer’s racks. It currently stocks approximately 20,000 items for men and women from more than 400 brands including established names such as Prada, Gucci and Saint Laurent, and emerging voices such as Noah, Kwaidan Editions and Off-White. According to the company, Ssense.com sees 53 million page views a month, with about three-quarters of users falling into the coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic.
One year after founding the website in 2003, brothers Rami, Firas and Bassel Atallah opened their original 1,200 square foot boutique in Old Montreal. Consistent customer feedback indicated that shoppers wanted access to the site’s entire online inventory in the store. More than a decade later, the brand has finally engineered a system that balances access to its full range of clothing and accessories with the space limitations of a boutique.
Operating on a by-appointment basis, Ssense Montreal asks clients to log onto ssense.com, create a wishlist of items they’d like to try on in-store and book an appointment with a stylist. Within 24 hours, their selection will be dispatched from the Ssense warehouse and set up in one of eight spacious fitting rooms.
“What we’ve done is completely change the way a store thinks about a backroom and storage,” says Krishna Nikhil, chief merchandising officer. To streamline this process, they installed a vertical lift module that’s typically only used in industrial settings. “Basically it’s a moving elevator, and then as part of it, it also has storage for 150 bins of customer orders. So you load in a bin for a customer order, it gets its own unique tag, and it’s then stored into that space.”
Beyond shopping appointments, Ssense Montréal presents the opportunity for its customers to engage with the brand through constantly evolving art and design programming such as events and exhibitions (the company says 29 per cent of its revenue is generated by its online content). At the opening party on April 26, guests were asked to lock away their mobile phones while they took in the art installation Arca / Tormenta for Prada & Ssense. For nearly 90 minutes, Venezuelan electronic music producer Arca performed throughout and in front of the building. Elements of the piece, including a pink, flower-filled pool and a sculpture of wires and electronic parts, will remain at the store until June.
“What’s important for us is to support and sponsor the people who are shaping fashion and culture. A space like this allows us to give them a platform to experiment and try things,” explains Rami Atallah. “Experience is maybe an overloaded word nowadays, but it’s really about being able to touch people emotionally and make people feel like they’re part of the community. For us, that’s what the space is about.”
Caitlin Agnew travelled to Montreal as a guest of Ssense. The company did not review or approve this story prior to publication.
Seneca’s School of Fashion’s annual Fashion Resource Centre exhibition in Toronto will celebrate fashion designer, entrepreneur, author and former Canadian Senator Vivienne Poy. Running from May 7 to 18, Vivienne Poy: A Legacy of Fashion, Politics and Philanthropy explores the Seneca alumna’s complete oeuvre. For more information, visit www.fashionresourcecentre.com.
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