Having been mired in the fashion month bubble, a few notable London happenings have passed me by. London Design Week has been and gone. And as we speak, I’m about to get on a flight to Seoul, whilst Frieze is in full swing and London Film Festival is about to commence. I’m basically missing this that’s city constantly in flux. I did manage to go check out Multiplex, conceived by interiors luminary Tom Dixon and dubbed the “multi-sensory department store of tomorrow”, which has been living in the back of Selfridges in what is normally a derelict space, for the past few weeks.
It was meant to coincide with London Design Week, but Dixon was keen not to just speak to design people. “It’s like how fashion weeks works – you’re preaching to the converted,” he said, as he most graciously took the time out to show me around Multiplex, on the day before it came to an end. Inspired by Andy Warhol’s Factory, the space shimmers with silver foil-covered walls, all the better to reflect Dixon’s clusters of copper home objects and metal lampshades. Dixon’s various homeware collections are arranged throughout Multiplex but dotted amongst them are a carefully selected array of brands that make this an intriguing “alternative department store.”
You might be wondering why I’m talking about Multiplex at all, seeing as it actually closed yesterday. The actual happening might have already happened but at the heart of Multiplex is an idea that has legs for the future. Multi-displinary. Multi-sensory. Collaborative. Sharing economy. These are the buzz phrases that when used at will can sound like marketing spiel. In the case of Multiplex though, what Dixon and his team created was a fantastic amalgamation of all of these things. “There’s a danger that London becomes a bit anodyne, a bit impersonal. London is multilayered and over-lapping,” said Dixon. “And the way we live isn’t mapped out like a department store – where the beauty department is on the ground floor and interiors is on the top floor. The modern world is about increasing your network. The more you’re able to go beyond your hermetically sealed environment, the more it benefits you as a designer and as a label. I’ve always battled being against being too much of an expert in what I do. ”
And so at the back of one of the world’s biggest department stores is a space that Dixon has called a “parasite”. The good sort that is. And inside are a host of young start-ups and fledgling labels that are all about fluidity or “elasticity” as Dixon puts it. They sit well together because they are going about their specific fields in unexpected ways. Take Haeckels – one of the few of the brands within Multiplex that I had heard of. Their Made in Margate moniker and their foraged cliff-side ingredients have made this skincare and fragrance brand a quiet success. They’ve come together with spatial design firm Loop.ph to create a bubble-like spa, where you inhale a specially formulated medicinal fog. This horticultural pod has been living inside of Multiplex.
It’s not necessarily about choosing UK centric brands either. You have furniture from New Zealand label Resident and playful synthesisers from Swedish start-up Teenage Engineering. The Danish brand brings Japanese binchotan traditions into their range of charcoal-based products. On the fashion side of things, Multiplex turned me on to two new names. Obataimu, a slow fashion label based in Mumbai but inspired by Tokyo, has an intriguing concept, which allows people to meet the artisans behind their work to understand the process and thus fully customise fit, fabric and colour of these wabi sabi-esque clothes. Filipino-Australian designer Karen Topacio has just recently started her label based in Paris and for her latest S/S 16 collection, she developed a body-sensory draping software whereby you move your body in front of the screen and it creates these CAD-like volumes that Topacio then used to create the shapes for her collection.
The thing that excited me the most was the way this collective of labels were chosen on merit, rather than in a department store, where space comes at a premium to brands. The ephemeral nature of the space means there’s an element of discovery which is becoming something of a rarity when so much of London’s West End retail is spoon-fed to you. I spent a good amount of time with Cubitts, learning about their made-to-measure eyewear and looking at their vintage oddities. I don’t remember when was the last time I spent more than ten minutes in a department store because I so often just zoom in for the thing that I’m after and get out as soon as I can.
Having grown up in London, Dixon was also inspired by the likes of Kensington Market and Hyper Hyper. Funnily enough, Kensington Market was the original starting point of Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe’s Dover Street Market, which will be making a dramatic move to Haymarket next year. That’s the level that Multiplex could well be aiming for, albeit with more disciplines and verticals added into the mix.
“I would really like it to last for three or six months – like a fun fair or circus that comes into town for a bit,” said Dixon. “Then the year after, you might surprise people with a new location or new products. People need to be surprised. It’s a harder and harder battle to get people out and about. I like the idea of a travelling circus. It keeps people on their toes.”
Taking the time to discover, learn and ultimately purchase is my ideal shopping experience. And it’s one that has definitely intrigued a swathe of people that managed to visit Multiplex. What Dixon has created here feels like a blueprint for multi-brand, cross-displinary and collaborative retail. Where independence can thrive and where brands and start-ups can be discovered as a collective.
Tom Dixon‘s homewares
A paint splattered installation by print-on-demand company Moo
Furniture and interiors by the New Zealand company Resident
Table arrangement by Clerkenwell London
A rail of Zoe Jordan clothes from Clerkenwell London
Unusual foods chosen by Arabeschi di Latte
Portable synths and pocket OS systems by Teenage Engineering
Connected grown-up lego to illustration the powering of networks by Sam Labs
Products from Made in Margate skin care brand Haeckels
Shoes from Filipino-Australian designer Karen Topacio‘s graduate collection
Karen Topacio‘s digital draping software and the resulting garments
Utilitarian babys by Yvonne Kone
Tokyo-inspired, Mumbai-based slow fashion label Obataimu that exposes the manufacturing process and preaches a ‘wabi-sabi’ philosophy
Rive Roshan‘s UV light filtered printed scarves
Cubitts‘ biometric measuring software to ensure glasses are a perfect fit
Tom from Cubitts trying on a pair of vintage glasses that enable you to read whilst lying down