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Nanushka’s New Store 
NR Magazine, Online

Nanushka’s new store in Mayfair had been open barely two weeks when, on Saturday 19th December, the closure of non-essential retail along with fresh coronavirus restrictions was announced with almost immediate effect in London and the South-East of the UK. This wasn’t the first set-back the Budapest-based fashion brand has faced whilst trying to open its third ever store. Originally, the London flagship was earmarked for opening in June, then November (around the time of the second lockdown), and finally, December. Nonetheless, as Nanushka’s Founder and Creative Director, Sandra Sandor, tells NR, the decision to open a physical store in a year as turbulent for retail as 2020 remains important. ‘We would like to be closer to our community and create a space [our customers] can visit, have a coffee or tea, and enjoy it.’ At its core, the vision for the new Nanushka store is one that isn’t ‘just a retail space; it’s more than that. We have big plans to create a residence that supports our community, artists - a space where people are connected.’ 

When Sandor speaks of the brand’s community in London, she speaks from personal experience and a history of living in, and loving, the city. As the press release for the stores opening rejoices, it, ‘marks Nanushka’s natural return to, rather than arrival in, London’. An alumna of London College of Fashion, Sandor graduated in 2005 before going on to launch her brand back in Budapest the following year. As a sworn favourite of Instagram influencers and street style regulars, it’s easy to forget that the brand has been around for nearly 15 years - such is the powerful lure of never-ending newness and seeming immediacy on social media. Rather, Sandor has been slowly growing the brand’s scope over time; only in 2016 did Nanushka begin to appear on the international fashion scene. And yet, the opening of the London flagship really does feel like the brand’s return. ‘It’s my second home,’ Sandor explains, ‘and I couldn’ be happier to have more reasons to visit the city.’ It was in London, as a student, that she learned more about style and experimentation - unteachable qualities in a designer - that would influence her design evolution.

Aside from London, Nanushka has two other locations, its first store in Budapest in 2018, then New York in 2019. The core concept remains the same at each: it’s not just about selling, it’s about building up relationships and community. As the part few years have shown (no more so than this year), the survival of brick-and-mortar retail is increasingly dependent on its ability to capture the attention of a customer inclined to browse in store and shop online, or not to go in store at all. Queue the rise of the Instagrammable pop-up, or the store as an experience - a gallery space, a hangout, a café. Nanushka, with its café space, then, is no exception to the trend, and the choice of interior design company behind the New York and London fittings suggests it’s something Sandor is actively aware of. Paris-based studio Festen Architecture were the obvious choice and the ‘perfect team to help our vision come to life,’ Sandor says. ‘We knew before we even started selecting the location of our first international store in NYC that I [wanted] to work with the Festen team. They were part of the process very early on.’ And it because the studio didn’t specialise in retail design that Sandor saw Festen as the perfect fit for the Nanushka stores.

‘I think good retail is about hospitality, not selling more. So Festen, who excels in hotel design, was the perfect choice.’ When it came to the customer experience in the London store, Sandor wanted it to ‘feel like you are stepping into our home, where you feel comfortable to sit down.’ She describes the store’s layout as being ‘a little like a big house,’ made up of a series of little domestic universes. There’s a ‘string of rooms, like lounges,’ on the second floor, and on the ground floor, the space is organised around a café, its marble counter taking inspiration from an original fireplace in the building. A connection to history is important at Nanushka, played out in relation to the brand’s origins and to the legacy of the store’s location, too. When it comes to the café space in each store, that’s a reflection of Budapest’s historical significance of the city’s coffeehouses. ‘Serving coffee, talking to each other while sitting in a public space which is almost your second home, is very much a Hungarian thing.’

And though the aesthetic cues in the newest store are taken from those ‘first established’ at the Budapest store, each location is designed with site specificity in mind. In Budapest, there’s a bohemian feel to the open interior space; there’s a sweeping staircase worthy of the Guggenheim in New York; and in London, the store is situated within a Grade II listed Mayfair townhouse. ‘As each Nanushka store is unique, the challenge is to remain faithful to the context, location and the history of the building.’ In London, that meant a Victorian house in the heart of the city’s West End. ‘We wanted to preserve and enhance the historical decorative elements of the building, like the Modillion cornices, the moldings, doors and fireplaces, while remaining sober and refined, [in keeping] with the Nanushka aesthetic.’ The space’s original features are paired with soft colours, mid-century furnishing and that Ultrafragola mirror by the Italian architect, Ettore Sottsass - a certified sweet spot for the design-inclined Instagram cool girl you’ll find wearing the brand. But, as Sandor says of the Instagram aesthetic, ‘I think the store very much proves that it’s more than that, while [letting] our community engage with the Nanushka lifestyle and its core values.’ And namecheck some of the iconic designs included in the London flagship - Marcel Breuer and Paul László - and you’ve hit upon some of the most influential Hungarian designers of the last 100 years.

Any association between the store and design goes beyond the current trend for mid-century anything; Sandor’s graduate collection at LCF made reference to
the Bauhaus school, of which Breuer was a part when he designed the famous Wassily chair that you’ll find at the London store. ‘One of Nanushka’s core values is the key message of the Bauhaus movement, “form follows function,” which is not only important in my design process, but reflects everything we do. The clothes and the spaces are not just beautiful, they have to be functional - they have a purpose to fill.’ And part of that purpose is the brand’s commitment to sustainability (the brand plays no small part in the popularity of buttery vegan leather in recent years), which was crucial to the design of the London store. Seating made with regenerated leather, reclaimed and sustainably-sourced wood, for example, contribute to making this the ‘most refined and mature [store] so far, where we were able to incorporate more sustainable practices’. Most of all, though, the opening (and temporary closing) of the brand’s third store is a significant milestone. When the doors reopen, Sandor, Festen Architecture and co, have created a space for people to ‘feel comfortable [and] step into the world of Nanushka.’

December 2020