Various Associates and the (SO)What store in Chengdu

Various Associates,

URVIRSION CO. / Zheng Fang, Tang Cao,

Chengdu, China,


Interior Design,

The Chinese-based Various Associates studio has designed the new boutique of the (SO)What women's clothing brand, which emphasises the freedom to choose one's own style, drawing inspiration from the cultural history of Chengdu, a city known for its traditional Shu operas. The shop presents itself as a theatrical stage for customers, where the spaces are structured like the acts of an opera.

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Various Associates and the (SO)What store in Chengdu
Interior design allows designers to go far beyond the simple setting up of a space, be it commercial or private. It is no coincidence that we often present to our readers interiors that stand out for a particular storytelling, as in the case of the latest work by the Chinese-based Various Associates studio in Chengdu, for the (SO)What women's clothing brand.
Not only have the designers focused on the brand's message, aimed at an independent clientele and inspired by the "Don't know, Don't care. I choose what I like. So what?" motto. In the case of the new store in Chengdu, Various Associates also took into account the cultural context of the megalopolis with over 16 million inhabitants, known for its great Shu opera tradition.
The store faces a lively street and its double-height square façade quickly attracts pedestrians' attention. Drawing inspiration from the deeply-rooted local culture linked to plays and theatrical performances, for their design concept Various Associates proposed a dynamic stage that integrates modern technology and dramatic tension to involve customers in immersive multi-sensory spatial experiences.
Like the typical subdivision of local performances, the design idea has been developed to follow five acts. The first act obviously concerns the façade, which attracts passersby. To this end, Various Associates removed the original closed façade, maximising the area able to engage in dialogue with the local context, thanks to suspended rotating giant screens as the core of the design.
The second act also concerns these same screens, which form the backdrop of the stage and help to convey changing and magical dramatic effects presented in a modern key. The third act, on the other hand, focuses on people because, as the architects affirm: "Where there are people, there is a stage". Various Associates, in fact, believe that people are the most important part in the space, and hope that customers who visit the shop can be like protagonists on stage. The difference is that everyone stages and performs their own stories, displaying unique individual characteristics. These roles are highlighted by the colours chosen by the architects – black, white and silver –, taking us into the fourth act. Indeed, it is black that makes all other colours shine and stand out in space. Silver hides in the black and white space, passing from the virtual of the screens to the real, while the sense of boundary between these worlds vanishes.
The details that complete the interior design are considered as the fifth and final act, underlining the store's spatial experience.
The (SO)What shop therefore invites customers not only to look at the clothing on display, but becomes a kind of inner journey, where new environments slowly open up with new atmospheres. Because this is precisely what Various Associates' intent was: to break with the concept of the traditional retail space. As the architects explain, "The design of this fashion boutique fully responds to the brand's concept. Innovative, bold and design techniques are demonstrated in the rigorous, free and flexible spatial system."
Through integrating brand culture with functions, structural innovations, aesthetics and multi-sensory experiences, the design team thus explored and brought more possibilities to the space, as we can admire in the evocative images of the store.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: Various Associates
Location: Chengdu, China
Year: 2021
Images: URVIRSION CO. / Zheng Fang, Tang Cao

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