Experiential retail is a favored buzzword these days — the idea of the store that is more than a store where merely being there is an event in and of itself before a single purchase is made. It also tends to be treated like a new innovation, the digital-age answer to the soulless, sterile warehouse store that gives consumers no reason to enter other than bare necessity.
While experiential retail may be the hottest new thing, it is quite a bit older than it looks.
10 Corso Como, the brain child of fashion editor and publisher Carla Sozzani, first opened its doors nearly 30 years ago in Milan.
“The 10 Corso Como philosophy grew from my life as an editor in magazines,” Sozzani said of her early innovation in experiential retail. “It was after the gallery and the bookstore were joined by the cafe and the design and fashion experiences — all intertwined as a destination — that Francesco Morace named it a concept store. It was not a marketing project, but simply the continuation of my editing experiences.”
The store was envisioned as a 3D magazine that let the consumer shop for the refined in a variety of contexts — clothing, artwork, literature, food — a one stop shop for the highly tasteful consumer looking for the ultimate in curated experiences before that was a mainstream retail goal.
And, after over 25 years in Milan, the 10 Corso Como concept is coming to America — specifically to New York City’s Seaport district.
“I was not thinking to open in New York at all, but when I saw the historic Fulton Market Building, and came to know its history and the history of the Seaport District, it was clear now was the time for this to happen,” Sozzani says. “It has been almost 30 years after we opened in Milan and I felt the same then: new history to add to a great destination. Reinventing new ways to use and enjoy this space, which was built in 1822, is part of the challenge of a fresh vision and that has always been a part of New York.”
The 28,000 square foot space will take the entire first floor of the Fulton market building and bring the collage retail offering 10 Corso Como is famous for offering under one roof, artistically rendered and hand curated.
The space will offer fashion, design objects and books, as well as a cafe, a restaurant, an art and photography gallery and a garden. “The Fulton Building’s original spacious market space will open into a series of promenades; each corner turned will be like turning a page into new discoveries,” Sozzani says.
“At the heart, inside, will be the sunken garden — nature. It is important to the philosophy of 10 Corso Como that many plants surround the building. We will open with the full 10 Corso Como experience. Because we have such a great expanse, moving through the space will reveal areas of fashion, cuisine and design, and the bookstore is always of interest, and of course the gallery. We will host an opening with photographs [by] Helmut Newton.” To uphold the traditions of the neighborhood, the restaurant’s menu will spotlight Italian cuisine, with a focus on simple dishes and fresh ingredients.
The stores are designed around curation — Solzanni said every element is chosen carefully and without regard to trend. The goal, she noted, is to create a sense of timelessness by carrying objects with enduring style and identity. It’s the thread that has held the store together overtime, she noted. She founded 10 Corso Como in the early 90s because she reported being frustrated with magazines and the one sided nature of communication in the world of fashion and style. In the pre-Instagram world, she told Paper Magazine, there was no direct communication with the people consuming and creating style. Her original vision was to create that meeting place where communication can really happen.
And though the digital age is the communication age in many senses, Solzanni says that the digital can enhance and expand the physical, but it can’t really supplant it. There is something ineffable and intrinsically valuable about being at the physical store location.
“Digital communication was invented. For a while, it’s something that people have been intoxicated by. It’s a big discovery to be able to do all these things via technology. But over the past two or three years, I’ve noticed that very young people have been coming to 10 Corso Como a lot more than before. When they come, they don’t use their cell phones. They talk to each other, they enjoy the nature and the food, they visit the gallery. It is more important today than before because you can’t have that experience through a screen,” Solzanni said. “Looking into another’s eyes … has so much more meaning than just texting or answering questions on a computer without ever meeting. There’s a big difference with in-person communication.”