Prior to joining The Conran Shop in 2016, Stephen Briars' career was focused in fashion, from C&A to Paul Smith, onto Louis Vuitton as visual director and Urban Outfitters as creative director. In his current role as creative director of The Conran Shop, Briars leads all creative functions of the brand globally. Here, he talks challenges, collaborations and what's on the cards for 2019.
RF. What drew you to Conran?
SB. For the most part, I’ve worked for brands with a unique point of view, singular concepts with a strong heritage or the founder still active in the business. The Conran Shop is one of those pinnacle brands, created by Sir Terence Conran; an incredible tastemaker, who shaped Britain throughout the second half of the twentieth century. His passion for design and foundation of a lifestyle store with a uniquely personal and curated edit, makes for one of the best design stores in the world.
RF. What does your day to day look like?
SB. Each day is different dependent on the season, current challenges, and future planning. Mondays tend to be very analytical and set the tone for the week. Our diverse stores in Chelsea, Marylebone and Selfridges, along with the store in Paris create seasonal demands that result in differing creative solutions. We are always working a season ahead and are currently also designing new stores. It is January and we are already into Christmas 2019.
RF. What challenges do you face in your role as creative director?
SB. Awareness and relevance. We’re a 40-year old retailer who needs to continually evolve and appeal to current and new customers in an ever-changing world. The stores crave change and seasonality, and our websites are continually evolving both in terms of functionality and content.
It’s essential that we continue to push the brand forward by being courageous and mindful of the insatiable demand for retail to be more engaging and influential.
RF. Where do you go for inspiration?
SB. Physical spaces mostly. London is an amazing city for museums and exhibitions of incredible variety. The Barbican is a great architectural institution, offering exhibitions, theatre and film with great curation. Conversely, I adore the Royal Academy for the same reasons. Beyond that, the V&A, both Tate museums and The Wellcome Foundation, all offer varying ways of presenting ideas and bringing adventure. I’ve been lucky to have travel at the core of many previous brands, and I’d say that nothing expands the mind like the experience of travel and encountering cities and cultures. The Conran Shop has taken me to Japan, where we have six franchise stores, as well as Hong Kong and Korea. Closer to home, Milan brings much inspiration through its annual Salone del Mobile exhibition, and cities such as Stockholm and Paris also host annual design weeks.
RF. What brands do you look up to, in terms of business and aesthetics?
SB. Personally, I’m a sucker for pure concepts; brands who retain their original creative ideas and resist the input of pedestrian marketing teams. I’d quote Aesop for its product and unique approach to store design, Acne Studios, although there’s a shift in approach there. Queen Mama Market in Seoul is a beautiful lifestyle store. Daikanyama T-Site in Tokyo is a great concept, essentially a ‘must see’ bookstore across three architect design buildings including cafes, restaurants, and a pet grooming parlour. The list is endless to be honest.
RF. The Conran Shop partnered with Pinterest during London Design Festival 2018. How did the collaboration come about?
SB. Like many collaborations, Pinterest came about by chance conversation. We work with many brands at The Conran Shop and in the pursuit of one project, we were introduced to Pinterest and the project took off from there. It came at a moment when we were developing our social media strategy and were looking to change our approach to Pinterest. It’s a fantastic planning platform, and forward thinking, rather like ripping the pages out of style magazines, as we used to do when magazines were our central reference points for decorating our homes. It’s a formidable modern resource and we’ve seen great traction during and after London Design Festival.
RF. Can you tell us about any collaborations you have planned for 2019?
SB. Our first story for Spring 19 is a celebration of the centenary of the Bauhaus movement, one of the most influential design collectives in modern times. Our website, store windows and product collections are all directly influenced by the architecture and graphism of the Bauhaus. All I can tell you for the rest is that we are invested in London Craft Week, New Designers, London Design Festival and Paris Design Week for sure.
RF. What other plans do you have for the year ahead?
SB. We have two new retail spaces opening in 2019. March sees the arrival of The Conran Shop in the iconic Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris. In November 2019 we are planning to open a two-storey Conran Shop in Lotte department store in Seoul Korea. It will be the most modern Conran Shop in the world and a template for future stores. The retail space is as large as our iconic Chelsea store in the Michelin building.