When the new flagship SSENSE MONTRÉAL opened its doors at 418 Saint-Sulpice in Old Montreal in the spring of 2018, it was clear that a new era in experiential retail was born. Representing the first building in Canada designed by world-renowned David Chipperfield Architects, the expansive 13,000-square-foot five-storey historic 19th century building — now housing a modern inner structure — is so spellbinding in its own right, it rivals established landmarks as a leading architectural wonder to experience when visiting the ville. But, of course, there’s so much more to it than that, as the Diary exclusive with SSENSE senior director of communications, Deanna Chow, reveals. (For a complete overview of the new and exciting retail experieneces in Montreal, link here).
Deanna, what was the goal and vision when designing and creating the SSENSE flagship?
Launched in April of 2018, SSENSE MONTRÉAL was conceived as the spatial twin to ssense.com and as a hub of activity where human experience, creativity and interaction are at the forefront. The space translates the SSENSE ethos into physical form by blurring the lines of commerce, culture and engagement.
The previous SSENSE boutique, also located in Old Montreal, provided years of research and information from our customers. One key learning that greatly informed SSENSE MONTRÉAL was how organically the personal shopping model came to be.
We found that our clients were shopping on ssense.com, then reaching out to our stylists to deliver specific items to the store for fittings.
From this experience, we were able to develop technology to support our personal shopping model within the new space.
In addition to the personal shopping model, clients are now welcome to shop from the assortment of merchandise that is frequently refreshed within SSENSE MONTRÉAL. Product is recontextual-ized and extends itself as a supplementary layer to the experiential programming.
Physically, the five-storey structure commemorates the first building designed by David Chipperfield Architects in Canada. The space houses an in-situ concrete structure — a building-within- a-building — where the concrete architecture is transparently expressed and explicitly exposed while preserving the original 19th century historic facade. The blending of textures and materials of the space is very much a reflection of the iconic brutalist designs Montreal is known for.
What are some of the key elements and special features of the flagship?
Featuring two levels completely dedicated to personal shopping appointments, SSENSE stylists are available for consultation on an appointment and walk-in basis. Clients are invited to make appointments on montreal.ssense.com where they can select from over 20,000 products available on ssense.com to try.
The flexibility of the space is integral to hosting and producing a multitude of events and installations at SSENSE MONTRÉAL. The building was designed with exact precision, with an embedded 60cm grid system throughout the concrete structure to allow for a hidden convertible socket system for all mechanical, functional and technical elements. This allows for the space to be easily transformed by way of lighting and merchandising fixtures.
The fifth floor of SSENSE MONTRÉAL offers a reading room with a discerning selection of books and objects ranging from design, fashion, architecture and culture.
Additionally, the fifth floor also houses a café, which offers an ever-changing market-fresh menu. The café’s glass ceiling spans the entirety of the space and offers an un- obstructed view of the sky above.
Obviously the retail landscape has changed so much in the past few years and custom- ers are looking for experiences when they visit a store, in addition to the right products and good customer service. What are your thoughts on this, as a retailer that’s gone from purely e-commerce, to brick and mortar?
Years of rigorous testing, analysis and iteration at the previous SSENSE boutique, which first opened its doors in 2004, has provided a rich understanding of who our client is.
SSENSE was founded with the intention of bridging the gap between online and offline. SSENSE MONTRÉAL blends the reciprocity of commerce, culture and engagement inherent to ssense.com and extends this interchange into physical space through integrated merchandise and event programming.
Since launching, SSENSE MONTRÉAL has hosted over 20 events and installations through collaborations with Virgil Abloh, Moncler genius Craig Green, Scorpion and Drake, and Valentino, to name a few. Our customers are looking for moments to connect and learn versus simply purchasing a product.