August 2015 / Julien Otte / Retail Designer / Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg
What does a retail designer do?
He is in a way responsible for the fact that people consciously pay attention to certain products in shops. The challenge is that a consumer memorize experiences in the brand universe with its codes and history. Personally, I find it interesting that this profession requires a combination of product design, graphic design and interior architecture. You have to communicate the story and the messages that a brand wants to tell. And, of course, I'm not alone. There is an army of creative people behind a retail design.
Yours is a truly complex profession. You need to have intuition for architecture and design but also for light and sound?
There are a lot of approaches to start with to find ideas and to grasp something new in order to create a brand or a store environment.
How far do go you with your drafts?
It always starts with a first exchange with clients. They ask me to send ideas, sketches at first. If an ideas is validated, I continue developing the details on the computer. Finally the brand decides, whether it's worth developing the ideas further. Most of the time, I work in my studio but for briefings it's necessary to meet people face to face. So from time to time I have to fly to Paris or other cities where some of my customer's headquarters are located.
As a retail designer, you are responsible for people’s shopping experience. What are your own shopping experiences? What kind of store makes you happy?
In Berlin I like the Andreas Mukurdis Boutique at Potsdamer Straße or the VooStore at Oranienstraße, and also the new Boutique at Soho House or the Modulor, the Mecca for creatives minds!
But I also enjoy a walk along Torstraße, where you can find many interesting shops.
In general, I like all these "self-made shops" that are so typical of Berlin.
I also like the Bikini house in Berlin. I think, as a mall it is quite a new concept. You don't think you are in a normal shopping mall. I don't like malls.
Why don't you like malls?
It is funny to say this because it is my job, but sometimes, it is the accumulation of brand signatures that I dislike. I like retail design when you are a part of the brand story because you can use materials that tell a story. That's usually the way I start to create a space or a retail project.
In addition, retail design is in fact a kind of advertisement. At the end there is always a logo which sometimes has to be bigger than that of your neighbors to get visibility. It is a game, and I'm keen to play this game. There is a link with the consumer beyond the simple message of 'Do you see me? Come and buy my products!' This relationship is more complicated.
As a consumer, I feel good in a shop when individually worked details catch your eye, and when I can touch a counter that looks great not just because it says Nike or Adidas on the shop door.
From your perspective, could you further describe the complexity surrounding the relationship between brand and consumer?
It seems logical to say that all major brands want to keep a close relationship with consumers. At the same time, they also have to find new consumers. This needs a lot of strategists and skills … From my point of view, I resume it in two aspects I have to consider parallel:
-the general aspect of design that generates a positive consumer perception and
-the consumer's support in discovering the retail space. It is more a didactic work which consists of thinking about the clarity of the offer of the products you’re presenting.
Did you notice any changes in your profession since online shopping has become a routine? If you did, how would you describe these changes?
It does not influence my work. In cosmetics stores, I think people still prefer to see and test products before buying them.
Has Berlin influenced your work since you have moved here? Is there more street style in your work?
Yes, totally. I found a lot of creative ideas in shops made with little money and made of simple materials. But I cannot use these for my retail design customers in Paris. They place different emphasis on retail design.
But I can use the Berlin influence for others projects. Like the one I have started some months ago with two friends of mine, Lionel and Delphine, who are decorators. They are specialized in brasseries, bistros and restaurants. They have their own agency called Finelio. I started a partnership with them. On my first assignment, I was in charge of the light in a restaurant opening in Paris this September. In the future, we want to offer our expertise in Berlin e. g. creating Parisian style bistros.
I have the desire to continue as a retail designer but also start new projects dealing with design in general, starting with a series of lighting designs that are at the prototype stage. And why not continue with other types of furniture. I have many ideas that I would like to realize. One was coming to Berlin.
You have a young daughter. Does she inspire you to your work?
Yes, she inspires me a lot. It is very easy for her to create something. It helps me a lot because, sometimes, I'm too much of a perfectionist which is not good when you do creative work. Of course, it is important to work on details but if you get bogged down in details, you have to keep your eyes away from it. Leni shapes me with that a lot. My 5-year-old daughter likes to paint a lot. I like the way she paints. Very spontaneously.
Do you remember a store that really impressed you when you were a kid?
Mmh, I cannot remember a special one from my childhood days. But as I was raised by my mother, I used to accompany her to fashion stores where she used to shop. And this habit remained until today. I like to accompany my wife Claudia and have a look at shops for women. I even do that alone ...haha.
How did you grow up?
I spent my childhood in a neighborhood of Paris. Mainly playing outside and riding BMX. I had quite a cool childhood. I just remember good moments with friends. I spent a lot of time drawing, filling sketchbooks with cartoons and caricatures. I still keep them in boxes in my cellar. My favorite subject was to draw punks! Perhaps because of all the details: piercings, tattoos, badges and studs on jackets. By the way, Berlin is one of the cities where you always find punks, even today. That's cool!
You moved from Paris to Berlin in 2012. Why did you want to live here?
I have known Berlin for a long time because I have family here. When I was a child, we went to Berlin for at least once a year. Quite often we spent Christmas in Berlin. Since I have known Berlin for such a long time I always have a good feeling about Berlin. But at the same time, I have some kind of a weird relationship with this city because it is half unfamiliar and half familiar. In Paris I'm the German guy for my friends and in Berlin I'm the Frenchman.
Of course, I know Paris much better than Berlin but I'm very happy here too.
In Paris I had a very good job and my wife too, but we both had the feeling that we wanted to have a new challenge. We wanted to change our lives a little bit.
We chose Berlin because I like this city and, not unimportant, my father lives here.
Berlin is well known for its freelancer activities and I thought: why not me? The first impulse was to contact my connections in Paris and to ask: okay, I have a mobile, a computer and an apartment, can I not start anything? It started like this. After 3 years I started working regularly for some brands in Paris, too. In addition, I have other projects on which I would like to work with people in Berlin. I started to make some prototypes.
I guess, I must take the opportunity to compare Berlin and Paris. Hahaha.
Paris is beautiful. Beauty and taste are everywhere: on your plate, in stores, the architecture. It's all around you. And I think, every individual who lives there can be grateful to its riches. But I like also its imperfection, that lend the city its special charm. Paris is a mess! It's loud, straight, stressful, always in motion, and all of that gives me energy. You have to be a part of it! In Paris, if you have a bad day, it's better to stay at home! hahaha
On the other hand, Berlin inspires me and influences me a lot. I can see how I changed since I started living here.
I like also its rough side, its authenticity and the space. Green spaces are definitely a luxury in Berlin! To have all these lakes, parks and even forests in the capital is a gift. And Berlin has its special aesthetics. Even though it was heavily destroyed during World War II, its history has made it something very irregular and surprising. Sometimes raw or even tattered, sometimes outmoded, sometimes modern. You always get surprised.
I hope Berlin will continue to surprise you for many years to come. Thank you for this interview.
The interview was conducted by Katja Mollenhauer. Photos by Nadja Wehling
Julien Otte was born in Poissy, near Paris, in 1973. He studied applied art at Atelier Hourdé in Paris for 1 year to prepare himself for entry into a design school. He then continued to study product design at E.S.D.I (Ecole supérieure de Design Industriel) school in Paris. After completing his military service in Germany, Julien finished his studies at Strate college near Paris, one the best design scholl worldwide. He stared working in an agency where he completed his first retail design project. Later, he worked under the CHANEL artistic direction for a period of ten years. www.homewerkberlin.com