Robb Read: Recasting Retail In A Post-Pandemic Landscape

How the look and feel of shopping in stores is fast evolving in both temporary and permanent ways.

By David Moin & Wwd Staff 27/05/2020

Here’s the dilemma: Certain Covid-19-related adaptations to the retail setting might or might not be relevant in the future. It all depends on the impact of the pandemic on shopping behaviour and whether it lasts a year, two years — or much longer. That means retailers must be innovative, agile and resourceful to navigate the challenges posed by the global health crisis and its accompanying economic fallout.

In any case, the playbook for store design and the shopping experience is being rewritten by the coronavirus, forcing retailers to make immediate adaptations for social distancing and sanitising, while accelerating changes already in motion, such as buy online, pickup in-stores or curbside, and showrooming.

We asked experts in brick-and-mortar retail design to discuss their visions for the store of the future, whether it’s retrofitting for right now, or dramatically rethinking the space for the next generation. For many, it’s all about merging hospitality and retail, increased web functionality to link shoppers to inventory in local stores, easily cleanable surfaces, modified customer traffic flow, open spaces with less inventory on the selling floor, shopping by appointment, and flexible fixtures so product displays and shops-in-shop can be readily assembled and disassembled like stage sets.

Peter Marino

Peter Marino  Manolo Yllera/Courtesy Photo

Peter Marino, architect

“A condominium project I’m working on specifies an elevator with voice command, so you don’t have to touch anything metallic. It’s very eerie. It’s the touching aspect that’s questionable. The reason people go to stores is presumably to touch and try on the merchandise. I think it’s going to take a while to regain confidence in that.

“I think we’ll want everything more modern. I don’t want doorknobs to enter a fitting room — we should just be able to push the door. There will be a lot less touching of metal and small items, but architecturally the changes are not very much.

“After the Depression of 1929 and 1930, everything became simpler. All those gorgeous luxury apartments by Rosario Candela on Park Avenue were suddenly being built with no oak libraries, no oak trim around windows. There will be a significant drop in the use of luxurious finishes. It’s not appropriate in the face of so many deaths and so much monetary loss. Everything we’re doing or planning on will be much simpler, more elegant; we’re even sardonically referring to it as ‘coronavirus aesthetic.’

“I’ve always liked doing very sensual, textured walls. But you don’t want people touching walls anymore, and people don’t want to. There will be a much simpler approach. Certainly less sensual, potentially a little simpler for trends in the next three to five years.

“Recently, I’ve been using cheerful colours including yellow, orange and bright burnt amber for retail. I think that happiness factor will not change. People need to be cheered up.” — Miles Socha

Norman Roberts

Norman Roberts

Norman Roberts, design director, FRCH Nelson

“We are only partway into this so we don’t really know the long-term and short-term impacts are,” said Roberts. “But we do know that retailers will have to really satisfy customers when they come into the store. The hurdles to get people in become even greater than before.”

Roberts envisions retailers creating more space to give shoppers elbow room and easier navigation, adapting the brick-and-mortar experience to accommodate those shoppers who want to come and go quickly, and those who prefer to leisurely browse through.

“People will have different comfort levels,” observed Roberts, noting that some shoppers will be anxious in a large busy space and will want to get in and out fast; others will feel comfortable, and potentially shop like they did before.

“Part of this will revolve around communication and a lot of signage about express lanes, or full-service lanes — formats we have seen in gas stations and fast food. Retailers must have multiple ways to engage. You could easily drop a self-checkout into any shopping environment. But you have to do a good job of communicating. You will see a lot more overt signage in stores, around the health precautions being taken and informing people about shopping options. This will impact the aesthetics of the space.”

Roberts said retailers in the future will create more spacious environments, and retrofit by reducing the number of fixtures, displaying less merchandise, and even bringing some of what the store offers inside, to outdoor settings. “I could see retail starting to push out to the parking lots and sidewalks, restaurants extending outside, and stores opening up a little more to engage with consumers who don’t want to go into the stores.

“I can see fixtures coming out to the street, and pop-ups in parking lots, depending on the season and climate. People are going to want space and fresh air. One of the big unknowns is HVAC systems. What role will mechanicals plays in the store of the future? There is really not much information on the role they play in spreading the virus.

“Aesthetics-wise, retail is moving to a ‘less is more’ philosophy. Spaces will be minimal, simpler and flexible with open floor plans without designated aisles. An uncluttered, simple space feels comforting, from a cleanliness perspective, and it’s easier to clean. There are a lot of stores that have don’t have the right infrastructure. They need more flexibility.

“On a psychological level, for people coming out of their cluttered, chaotic homes, it’s going to feel very satisfying. You want a big, open floor plan so you can move around, and if you have aisles, you can add directional decals,” so people move in the same direction to facilitate socially distancing.

Furthermore, “A minimal, simple space will be a much better canvas to communicate information on safety, distancing, cleaning, how you check out, where to find men’s clothing, where to find the fitting rooms. There are a lot of new ideas retailers will have to communicate to people.”

With the fitting rooms, “Retailers must make them comfortable. It’s also all about sanitation. A lot of fitting rooms are not very well lit and feel a little icky.”

There’s also a bad feeling around cash, that it can transfer the virus. People no longer like to touch money, or stand at the checkouts where people interact in close proximity, Roberts said. “The use of self- and mobile checkouts is going to accelerate. But self-checkouts need to be easier to use.”

With the country in recession, “retailers are going to have to be very efficient with their dollars,” said Roberts. “A lot of what retail design firms do is retrofitting” rather than completely renovating or overhauling the box.

“We also have to keep in mind that with the recession in general, there is a self-consciousness around flamboyance and extravagance. We are entering a minimalist time. Ten years ago, we saw that happen. The merchandise radically changed. People became self-conscious about being too flashy about what they bought and wore. It’s like what happened during the Great Depression. It killed a lot of Roaring Twenties flamboyance.” — David Moin

Ron Radziner

Ron Radziner  Courtesy Photo

Ron Radziner, design partner, Marmol Radziner 

“Retail will become even more gallery-like. You see the item of clothing but there is only one piece, or one of each colour hanging, and if you want to try that on, the staff will go grab your size, and put it in the dressing room.

“My sense is the whole dressing room experience will also become more important. You could go online, to Tom Ford, and say, ‘hey I’d like to try on that suit, these shirts,’ and then you have an appointment and they have it ready for you, so there are fewer people in the same space at the same time. Maybe it’s your salesperson stepping into what the clothes look like on you, and you do your whole transaction from there.

“In most cases, when you go into The Row or Tom Ford, even James Perse, there aren’t that many people in the store anyway. So to imagine a transformation like this doesn’t seem that hard. The store doesn’t have to get bigger, there will just be a little less open shopping space, and a bit more on the dressing room side. You’d create a better fitting room experience that doesn’t have the narrow hall with a bunch of rooms, but is something more gracious. You may see another person as you go in and out but barely, you’re within your great room, maybe it becomes three to four times the size it is now.

“We did the first stores for Vince, and that’s different; it’s really nice stuff, but it’s more stuff. I wonder if stores like that or a bookstore are going to have to say the direction of traffic is this way, like Ikea. It will be about guiding people visually with how the shelving and the fixturing is set up. And certainly, in offices and restaurants, too, it’s about spacing between tables and counters. In L.A. we have lower density, but it will be especially difficult in a place like New York, where space is more of a premium.” — Booth Moore

OMA worked on the Galleria Gwanggyo, which opened earlier this year.

OMA worked on the Galleria Gwanggyo, which opened earlier this year.  Courtesy Photo

Chris van Duijn, partner, OMA

Shopping time slots. Open floor plans. One-way aisles. Less merchandise and subdivided stores for easier maneuvering. These are some of the adaptations stores are, and will be, making, according to van Duijn.

After the shutdown, people will be more inclined to enter stores with long sightlines and full overviews for a direct path to what they want, rather than going through narrow spaces putting people in close proximity to each other. Shopping malls and developers could incorporate social distancing by dividing one store into two to easily organize the goods on display.

“If you look at retail from where you are today, you could imagine less quantity, less occupancy [for shoppers], less physical interaction, less social, less vertical and maybe more quality and a more personal experience.

“How this works in the long term, I am a bit sceptical that people will really change their habits too much,” van Duijn said. “People are social animals and I can see them going back to their original habits.”

The OMA partner noted that in Asia, where shopping malls and stores have reopened, people wear masks and “that’s basically it.” Whereas in Europe, there will be greater physical change to stores, with layouts and how people circulate. “In Asia, the masks basically compensate for the social distancing. People are used to them. In Europe, it’s still very new. There is not that level of comfort with masks that there is in social distancing. It will be interesting to see how this behaviour affects the coronavirus infections again and whether there will be more waves.”

Given the need for social distancing, the social aspect of shopping is changing. Consumers may not bring family members or friends along. “It’s no longer a social experience that you enjoy and hang out,” van Duijn said.

Having designed The Galleria, a department store that opened in late March outside of Seoul in Gwanggyo, the OMA partner said changes have not been requested. At this point, the pandemic has changed consumer behaviour and the number of goods being produced and those factors may change retail layouts, he said.

“Brands will probably produce fewer goods. Some of the luxury brands have already said that for 2020, we won’t do any more. We will see you back in 2021,” he said.

With fewer designs and less production, developers, department stores, specialty stores and shopping malls will need to adapt, van Duijn said. “What’s interesting is the urge to buy things became much less in a very natural way. People, obviously, shop more online. That’s logical. But you shop for what you need and not so much for fun. Morally and ethically, that is good but at the moment that will not help our economic system. There will be many victims there.” — Rosemary Feitelberg

Glenn and George Yabu Pushelberg of Yabu Pushelberg

Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu of Yabu Pushelberg  Courtesy Photo

Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu, Yabu Pushelberg

Pushelberg: “As a result of social distancing, the scale of stores will remain large or grow larger, made possible by what will be affordable real estate. In a multibrand store, I believe there will be more compartmentalization, going from room to room in a graceful way that simultaneously controls traffic and creates intimate brand experiences. La Samaritaine, a department store we designed for LVMH in Paris, is by circumstance well suited for this new future of retail. The aisles aren’t deep, and they don’t have the traditional floor plates of a department store. Aisles are narrow as a result of the heritage atrium building that houses the store. Subsequently, traffic flows in an upward ring, moving guests vertically from one shopping area to the next.

“At the end of the day, retail is a form of entertainment. It’s an opportunity for something experiential, and I believe there will be a cautious movement back to retail as a form of entertainment.

“It won’t be the speed of shopping or the efficiency of it, it will be the form of it. There have been some retailers such as Maison Kitsune, for example — they’ve built a café, where they produced the music. To me, the next step is a place you can sit down and have lunch, buy the music, leisurely look at the clothes or have the clothes come to you in a larger restaurant.

“Restaurants in their traditional sense aren’t going to work well either because people will need to be spread out, but if you can add more experiences and add on to the purchases, you can actually make something that works. To me, there will be more blending.”

Yabu: “People want to return to stores and make purchases knowing how and why something was made the way it was. Perhaps at some point with the way real estate will be changing, allowing for more expansive retail spaces, the start-to-end experience can be a little more drawn out and people can also experience the craftsmanship behind what they’re purchasing in this multifaceted destination.

“Years ago, we were working on the VIP rooms for some of the Louis Vuitton shops and they took us through their workshops, and to us, the workshops were fascinating. I was almost expecting a store or restaurant to be part of the workshop. To me, that whole thing can be combined.

“We designed a store for Lane Crawford in Beijing for a family looking to essentially create their own small-scale shop in the sense that it would allow for semi-private shopping. Even though the store was open to the public, there were times the client wanted the option to invite friends to shop without other guests sharing the space. We created subtle ways of closing off shopping areas with the use of folding doors, similar to those which may be found in a graceful European home. You get a sense that there’s a room beyond where you stand; however, you must be invited to enter. A similar concept could be put in place moving forward to orchestrate traffic flow whilst still enhancing the shopping experience.” — M.S.

Robin Kramer

Robin Kramer

Robin Kramer, founder, Kramer Design Group

“Everything that would have happened in the next three to five years will be happening in the next three months. The health crisis is definitely causing people to be much more creative, to think outside the box, and not hold onto old thought processes. But what makes retail great are the simple things we need to go back to — great merchants, great assortments, edited fleets.

“My company has always been focused on the customer experience, and now it’s how you make the consumer feel comfortable going into a store, touching things, trying on things. You have to be incredibly creative to offer new solutions without losing your brand image, whether it’s curbside pickup or logistics, how do we stand out and do it through the lens of the brand? Curbside pickup at a grocery store needs be very quick and efficient. At Bottega Veneta, it might be very different, involving more customer service, a deeper thought process.

“With the beauty store for the future, how do you look at testing and servicing customers in something as intimate as beauty? We are working on a new concept for a multibrand retailer which will contain beauty, wellness and health.

“Even in ready-to-wear, the opportunity is service. Bergdorf Goodman can take high-end service and personal shopping to a whole new level.

“Jewelry is ripe for the next innovation. No one’s reinvented the jewellery store format. It’s something we are looking at — how you change the jewellery experience. It’s not enticing to go into a store and be limited by that caseline. It’s been too precious of an experience. High end needs to be more accessible without losing its sophisticated appeal.

“There is also an opportunity for merchants to bring travel to the consumer. Remember when it was a big event to go to Bloomingdale’s, and see how products from different countries, like India, permeated every department in the store? With less travelling now, merchants should be creative by bringing the world to you through their merchandising.

“We can already see as Europe reopens that people still want to shop in stores. Precautions like masks, hand sanitizer, distancing will be put in place, though people will still want to touch and try on.”

Among Kramer’s recommendations for the store of the future:

• Edit and focus assortments so shoppers don’t have to plow through tons of products.

• With checkouts, the more touch-less the better.

• For dealing with taking clothing off the selling floor for cleaning, keep more stock in storage and less up front, and have sufficient service for retrieving what’s requested in short order.

• “Inspire” customers to buy beauty online and encourage trying new products at home. Offering a discount on the next beauty product ordered would help.

• Create areas for service that provide privacy; fitting rooms must be as comfortable as  possible. — David Moin

Joan Insel

Joan Insel  Courtesy Photo

Joan Insel, vice president of brand strategy and customer insights, CallisonRTKL

“We are in the improvisation phase. This is a very dynamic and fluid environment.”

Retailers, she said, while beginning to adapt their store environments to new health requirements and precautions to reduce the risk of being infected and encourage shopping “also have to think about long-term strategies. Stores really need to be flexible and agile to be ready for a lot of change. From an aesthetic point of view, retail design will certainly have to make people feel safe and secure. Emotions are paramount right now. How do you make employees and customers feel safe?

“You are going to need more space, and to reduce the number of fixtures. We are starting to ask the question of what is the purpose of each space. In the past, we wanted people to linger and create a community.” Now, at least until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, a degree of separation, social distancing, prevails.

“There is this whole idea of spatial repurposing — parking lots that transform some space into pop-ups or drive-in movie theatres, or event spaces where you stay in your car. Mall parking lots are huge and can repurpose a vast amount of space.” That could involve more personal service by employees greeting customers in their cars, at a distance, Insel added.

“With drive-through experiences, how can we make them more of an opportunity for a specific brand, whether it’s REI, Nike or Nordstrom,” among the retail clients that CallisonRTKL has been working with, along with Tiffany & Co., Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Target, Cotopaxi, böhme, Citi, Toys ‘R’ Us, and ABC-Mart Grand Stage. CallisonRTKL was a design partner for Nordstrom’s Manhattan flagship on 57th Street in Manhattan, working in conjunction with Nordstrom’s design team.

“Density used to be a good word. Now it’s a bad word. Who’s driving downtown anymore? Smaller stores is also where we are heading towards. It’s already been happening. Small is the new big, so you can go to where the customer is and not necessarily having the customer come to where you are.”

Among Insel’s other recommendations and considerations for operating and adapting the retail setting:

• Showrooming, so there’s more space and less inventory on the floor to facilitate social distancing.

• Have fixtures that can be lowered from the ceiling or raised, depending on the product display. Fixtures should be portable, and packable, to readily assemble and take down fashion presentations and exhibits  “almost like stage set design.”

• Flexible floor formats, without carpet pads, so areas can be easily enlarged or downsized depending on selling trends.

• Redirect traffic and customer flow, determine what occupancy levels seem safe.

• Integrate voice command like Alexa or Siri and mobile apps to get directions to the items or department you want, to limit meandering through the store. The technologies could also be used to request services, or adjust fitting room lighting.

• Virtual, augmented and mixed reality to see how you look in different outfits or cosmetics without trying anything on or applying any makeup.

• Contactless payments, such as Alipay.

• Automatic doors. — D.M.

Coren Sharples

Coren Sharples  Courtesy Photo

Coren Sharples, a founding principal, SHoP Architects

For the store of the future, establishing a sense of community and personalized experiences are increasingly important, said Sharples. “We don’t need a physical space to sell things. Obviously, we’re doing this all the time without a physical space. We can move volume online, through Amazon — anyone can do that. We need physical spaces to have the experiences. Stores are really going to be much more about places where you can connect and strengthen relationships and experiences.”

One of her projects, The Company Building at 335 Madison Avenue in Manhattan, is being renovated and repositioned as a tech hub for start-ups. Located a few blocks from Grand Central Station, The Company Building once housed the two-floor Daffy’s off-price store, which was “walled off from the rest of the building,” Sharples said. The new retail component, which is the next phase of the development, will be easily accessible.

Rather than target a big-box tenant, a marketplace is being created. “The idea is that this is an extension of the start-up community in the building,” Sharples said. “We completely opened it up to the lobby and added an extra floor, so it’s part of the experience of the building.” The space could be used by start-ups for product demos, focus groups or pop-up shops. “It’s about community, small-scale, adaptability and low-barrier entry,” Sharples said. — Rosemary Feitelberg


Mike Riggs  Riggs,Mike & Jenna

Mike Riggs, managing director of retail, IA Interior Architects

“From what we’ve heard from our clients, it’s not necessarily a revolution at retail. It’s probably going to be an evolution of those changes that were already needed. Most of the plans we’ve seen from retailers are table stakes — enhanced cleaning, no touch, identifying those who may or may not have the disease, social distancing, spacing, occupancy, how many people you can have in the store. Materiality will likely be more considered,” to identify what the virus lingers on. “I think [store experiences] will be driven less by regulations and more by consumer behaviour. “Concepts we have been talking a lot about leading up to well before COVID-19, I see it really taking hold now — retail brands connecting to the consumer within the physical store environment by evolving more from consuming goods to doing good — this brand altruism. For both Nike and REI, it does affect the design of the store. Maybe we find areas that speak to the community with some celebration of their guests in the locale or region,” who get involved in making a difference in the community. “Having these [aspects] in their environments allows consumers to embrace their tribal tendencies, the desire to be together, to do something good and to be able spread the word of that same goodness.

“There are some real positives that can come from this [pandemic] as opposed to how we are going to be six feet apart from one another in a bubble spraying our hands with bleach every five minutes.”

Also for the store of the future, “VIP experiences might be the norm. Appointment-based shopping and how that might extend and be less elite,” said Riggs.

And for those picking up online orders in the store or curbside, “It will be interesting to see how that all plays out. It’s growing but very slowly in my opinion. There is this idea of people still wanting social interaction and to see other people. The pickup at the curb I think will have a limited lifespan. There are a lot of specialty retailers dependent on impulse shopping. So how do you create an in-store experience that allows people to maybe surveil what is immediately adjacent to the entry and allows guests to see much of the store presentation, while picking up [online orders] in store. How do you make that bridge from pickup to browsing?”

With the retail box, “It used to be about big and small versions. I see extended versions in different, regionalized ways, connecting to different levels of interest in different formats. Focus on these five things that are really important” to a particular community, said Riggs. “I do think people in this COVID-19 current state, just need to be out and to connect. The more retailers create really unique, compelling formats, the more likely they will make that happen. Consumers are going to be really demanding, post-COVID-19, from an emotional standpoint.” — D.M.

Barbara Bestor

Barbara Bestor  Courtesy Photo

 Barbara Bestor, principal, Bestor Architecture

“We were doing retail concepts for big sports retailers, and they are seeing their stores less as stores and more as places you see sanitized samples, then go home and have the goods shipped to you. It also wouldn’t be hard for a smaller store and would allow you to not stock as much. The whole trend for larger retailers to stuff everything full, and always have 30 sizes of everything [displayed], that’s probably long gone.

“You will have a little more of a concierge aspect to retail, too, where it’s someone’s job to put the sample that’s been tried on away somewhere for 24 hours, so you would need space for racks that are time-stamped. There’s going to need to be more room for infrastructure for people spritzing down and cleaning, a little more like food retail where you have to obey certain retail codes.

“Another thing is materiality. We can do some things with terrazzo, and other surfaces that are more solid and cleanable than wood — stuff you can wipe down. A lot of the work we have been doing is third-wave coffee shops, that might translate into other retail. It would seem to be better in general for health if things are concrete and metal. There’s going to be an innate psychological aspect, the idea that your design looks safe, and feels clean and uncluttered. They say the roots of International Style and European Modernism was a reaction to the first Spanish flu, and the idea of the sanitized hospital as opposed to the slums of Paris, I would see how that would come back as a design style that reads as hygienic. One good example is the new Webster store in L.A. by David Adjaye. It’s all pink concrete and looks like it could be hosed down.

“Also, openness — it’s already a huge design trend. I don’t know how much indoor malls will survive, but I could see more tearing the roof off.  I could also see more local delivery, a local boutique could drive around the neighbourhood with a dress mobile! That’s something Amazon can’t do.” — B.M.

Shayne Brady pictured at Bob Bob Cité in London, which he designed last year.

Shayne Brady pictured at Bob Bob Cité in London, which he designed last year.  Courtesy of BradyWilliams

Shayne Brady, cofounder, BradyWilliams

“We are going to see a shift towards an even more personalized service with stores offering customers reassurance that their needs and concerns are being heard, while also offering a luxury experience to entice them to come into the store, not just shop online. Retailers will need to offer the usually exclusive one-on-one consultations to a broader audience in order to create a more customer-focused, brand-facing experience.

“We can imagine brands will offer a by-appointment-only service with slots allocated through mobile apps. This is where the digital and physical collide to allow people to immerse themselves in the brand, engage with customer service and experience the products.

“The introduction of private or semi-private rooms could be created through removal of traditional open floor plans, moving the product from the shop floor into individual categorized capsules. In our forward-thinking vision we have come up with perfectly spaced consultation rooms that allow customers and staff to be safely placed, while the introduction of partial screens means there is still a sense of interaction and personalization.

“As we come out of lockdown, an important factor is to strive for a greener, more sustainably aware world. The planet has started to slowly reset elements during lockdown and the need to continue this is of paramount importance. This is certainly something that brick-and-mortar retail destinations need to consider in our new world. 

“Locally sourced materials will be key; designers should be sourcing materials from accredited suppliers to ensure we are giving back and not further harming the planet, whilst also ensuring that we are careful that the emissions produced in the manufacturing processes of the materials is also not causing further damage. 

“Customers will likely crave interaction and the elevated service that only comes from shopping in real life. However, there will also be a sense of caution and safety that retailers will need to offer, whilst not making spaces feel clinical or losing the brand identity. The key to successful luxury retail is the total immersion of a customer within the brand. There are ways to do this through the addressing of all our senses, including smell, within the store, the careful choice of materials and a sense of craft to represent the overall ethos of the brand. 

“I’ve always been an avid fan of how a certain smell can immerse someone in a fond memory or evoke a certain feeling. Often brands will have their own synonymous smell and so by ensuring that using diffusers to permeate the air, a memory is created in the sensory brain of our bodies. This will also enforce the brand and elevate the overall experience, again encouraging people to step out from behind their screens and into the shop. 

“Retailers must vitally consider using materials that prevent the spread of germs. A key point in all our designs is the front-door handle which sets the tone for the design. Moving forward, we recommend using metal door handles in a copper alloy as this material helps to reduce the spread of germs, protecting customers. Also, we think nonporous and lacquered materials, that allow for frequent and more easy cleaning, will be key. 

“In our imaginary accessories store, we have developed a concept of personal shopping meets online shopping. Set in the likes of Dover Street Market, we have created the idea of an indulgent model of personalised capsule pods. Designed to allow a customer to safely experience all that a brand has to offer, these immersive pods would be filled with a thoughtfully chosen aroma and indulgent yet nonporous materials would be used. 

“We want to instil an old-school sense of craftsmanship. Retailers should look to turn their backs on the hype of mass purchasing whilst encouraging customers to buy key items. This needs to be reflected in the interiors, which should feel crafted and bespoke, using pieces that will be purchased as an heirloom. 

“Floor staff, whilst protected behind a privacy screen, will still have clear interaction as they assist customers in choosing items from the dramatic vertical conveyor belts behind — we love the idea of the machine at work juxtaposed with the craft of the capsule.

“We have imagined integrated safe-deposit boxes lining the walls, allowing customers to peruse sunglasses while the sales staff can safely unlock each remotely, allowing a customer to experience and try them on.

“In our forward-thinking approach to retail, we are elevating shopping to a piece of theatre, whilst keeping customers and staff safe and reassured.” — Samantha Conti

Silvia Kuhle

Silvia Kuhle  Courtesy Photo

Silvia Kuhle, cofounder, Standard Architecture

“It will probably look different for different levels of clients, depending on if it’s a store for a broader public versus a more high-end, couture or home store. If it’s broader, a lot of browsing would happen online, and inventory will be closer linked to your local store, so you don’t just browse online general merch, but make a basket of things to try on from whatever your local store has, then make an appointment. That could happen even in stores that exist now. If you cut out browsing, you can still service a lot of people in stores you have.

“While you have some stores that are completely open, others like to create rooms within the store, and each one has a different environment or decoration, so you are in an evening area or men’s or beachwear area. Maybe each area is just for one person or one group, to ensure safe browsing, and you’d walk in a circle through all the rooms —like Ikea but in a much nicer way. If you feel like you are by yourself, you feel OK browsing around.

“I could also see high-end stores becoming about personal shopper appointments where you are the only one in the store. Changing rooms have to be cleaned after every shopper. Everyone will need a washer/dryer in their space, and maybe you pick up your own personal mat or cushion (they already do that at the gym), in addition to a branded mask and gloves, when you enter the store.

“And the store experience will have to be linked in an intelligent way with the Internet, maybe with a chat feature that doesn’t just go to someone in a call centre, but a person in your closest store.” — B.M.

Pamela Shamshiri

Pamela Shamshiri  Dewey Nicks/Courtesy Photo

Pamela Shamshiri, cofounder, Studio Shamshiri

“I think people are going to consume less, but specialty and high end will continue and the retail experience will be more about visiting ateliers and studios by appointment. We were already moving toward everything feeling residential, at least I was, but it will just be that next layer of privacy and point of view that’s more curated and personal and has less volume of people.

“It may take longer to shop, for special orders and for things to arrive, but maybe that will make things more coveted. As for design elements, I think a kitchen and living room, more bespoke interiors, a whole world where you can spend hours and hours, then buy things, more like a merging of hospitality and retail, like an artist studio visit and by the way, the bread was so good. You can relax and take your time. I just finished [L.A. jewellery designer] Sonia Boyajian’s store and her concept was by appointment, where you can see everything being made. It’s like a small factory.” — B.M.

Torquil McIntosh and Simon Mitchell, cofounders of Sybarite in London.

Torquil McIntosh and Simon Mitchell, cofounders of Sybarite in London.  NOAH SHELDON

Torquil McIntosh and Simon Mitchell, cofounders, Sybarite

In the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, stores will need to initially allow more space per customer to anticipate…what they will need to feel comfortable in their own skins and secure within the given environment again. Retailers should consider social distancing within the stores and embrace it as a positive, change the store layout to create pockets, meaning that larger volumes of people can filtrate and shop at ease. You could really fly with this concept and create bursts of experiences along the way.

“Smart retailers [will] allocate time and funds to reevaluate and reassess store strategies and store experiences and make them more exceptional, more of a spectacle. If they are able to implement them in time for their reopening, they will reap the rewards. In addition, self-quarantining will bring a renewed passion for real-life experience and occasion rather than the comparable flatness of e-commerce. This will be a cue for visual merchandising.

“There will be a shift in the importance of cultivating homegrown support and celebrating niche producers. A sense of rediscovery is what lies ahead. The restrictions that have been experienced with global travel have resulted in an invigorated resourcefulness. There will also be newfound respect for the products themselves and the ability to view them in an environment away from ‘home.’

“Customers will, most likely, become more discerning post-COVID-19. Stores will need to work hard to offer something that is radically different to digital since the world has become accustomed to it during these pandemic days. Customer service will need to be on tap to match client expectations and over and above e-commerce levels. 

“Brands and retail designers are always looking at better ways of communicating their brand offerings, and it is likely that COVID-19 would have propelled them into looking into this with a heightened and more accelerated incentive. Seamless shopping experiences where hygiene and tech are expertly designed into the environment are always top priority, although the boundaries are always looking to be pushed. 

“Innovation and purposeful design will be front of mind and emphasized post-COVID-19, as will dedicating more surface area to a smaller edit of products that can be viewed in a different way, rather than packing in larger quantities of goods. Storytelling and sense of place can never be underestimated. 

“Luxury stores are always changing to create newness. COVID-19 will mean that retailers will look at how to future-proof environments. Agility in thinking, in business, in design and in luxury is the key to the survival of the fittest and the bravest. Luxury goods will continue to focus on experiences, the storytelling aspect around purpose and values, heritage and authenticity in order to remain relevant. 

“Customers will want to buy into something which clearly demonstrates source and accountability and responsibility amongst brands. The phenomenon and the intricate subtleties of experience, sensation, touch is everything. There will be a need for the experiential, with more space and fewer products. 

“Stores will be looking to curate an experience that is remarkable and that resonates well beyond the store itself. The store acts as a catalyst, a platform. 

“The allure of the brick-and-mortar experience is essential as the differentiator and acts to promote brand solidity. The goods and physical environment are designed to make one feel good and therefore hold more currency than ever, something to covet and look forward to.”

There will be “a blurring of boundaries between straight retail acquisition and retail acquisition surrounded by a level of theatre in terms of exhibition/art installations, dining, drinking and sleeping. Case in point is SKP-S, Beijing, a collaboration between Sybarite, SKP and Gentle Monster where art installations and Future Farms and space tunnels weave their way around the forward-thinking curation of products.

“Retailers should reveal what they would usually hide — prove that they are the best in air quality and ventilation with a filtering [system], for instance. Display the air renewal system in a glass box, akin to an installation, for all to see in plain sight as a focus point — make it part of the experience. 

“Allow people to be able to check and follow it — the ultimate in transparency. Air filtering should be a core consideration; this should be increased in line with the medical industry with the certification to boot. A small sacrifice in surface floor area which could be retrofitted into an existing A/C system. This could become the USP of a given store. Health is the ultimate luxury.” — S.C.

Geraldine Wharry

Geraldine Wharry

Geraldine Wharry, futurist, designer and educator

“There is a type of a state of panic right now. People want answers — immediate answers. There are no easy answers in terms of retail unfortunately and the gatherings of people. [Retailers need to] focus on the difference between short-term measures to prevent the spread of the virus and to protect consumers and workers, and then long-term solutions that would benefit the already struggling retail landscape. [That could] possibly be considering more sustainable solutions, experience and wellness.”

While heatmap cameras, motion sensors for doors and digital try-ons may be increasingly used for health precautions for shoppers, Wharry spoke repeatedly about how retailers need to also take a long view about the future of retail.

“The store of the future is a store that will hold stock in a very intelligent way. It will be highly personalized and focused on the social experience rather than just selling goods. Everyone can get that online,” she said.

She pointed to the customized selection made possible by Nike Live’s “Nike by Melrose,” a fusion of an online and offline store. Wharry noted how shoppers were required to sign up for the Nike Plus app to unlock services and perks in the store. By doing so, Nike learned about each customer’s shopping behaviour and preferences, and stock was adjusted accordingly, Wharry said. That eliminated the need for overstock or regular sales, she said.

Wharry also singled out, The Westfield London’s Trending Store, a pop-up that used AI to analyze social media data to extrapolate the top 100 fashion items. Each morning a team of stylists culled the trending items from retail stores in the mall. “Data and analytics will be really great to help have a real curation of a store. People are not going to want to spend hours in a store. They will want to know what they’re coming for — potentially in the beginning until things get back to normal.” — R.F.

Lewis Taylor, design director, David Collins Studio

“Retail spaces will inevitably need to work harder in terms of their design, materiality and the narrative that these things create to engage with their customers. Before the current pandemic, customers had become more demanding of brands and more critical of any perceived lack of authenticity, and this will continue.

“Customers will want to feel that their personal privacy, safety and security is continually being managed as the situation changes going forward, and again, what is the right fit in one territory may not work in another.  It goes without saying that very visible, and brand-appropriate hand-sanitizing stations should be available in all stores, and the measures put in place with regard to social distancing will need to be in line with local regulations. This will need to be managed with very well-considered, in-store customer services and ‘hospitality’ – not just the staff the customer engages with on their journey through the store, but potentially the visibility of temperature checkers, of hygiene staff, and how they are dressed, or re-positioned within the store experience. How does a brand express that cleaning is of paramount importance ensuring that it is brand-appropriate and not alarmist?  Similarly, how do you demarcate social distancing without destroying the design integrity of the store?

“There will inevitably be an increase in personal and private shopping experiences that may allow for use of VIP fitting changing rooms or private spaces within stores that can be managed with a well-considered hospitality strategy.  These relationships have always been key, and were a large consideration when David Collins Studio designed global retail roll-outs for brands Alexander McQueen, Jimmy Choo and de Grisogono, building the ceremony of service into the design and functionality of the store experience.  David Collins Studio designed a private bridal space for the Jimmy Choo Townhouse on Bond Street, and VIP fitting rooms at Harrods in both men’s and women’s wear departments at Harrods, and these stores that have the luxury of these spaces will be able to build them into their private shopping experiences.  Brands that already manage their brand story, store design, sales strategy, and have a robust CRM database will have a head start here.

“Pinch-points within stores will need to be considered in terms of the customer journey and managing the use of escalators and lifts.  A lot of these considerations will be easier to implement within luxury stores rather than in high street stores, which are potentially more dependent on high traffic.

“Beyond COVID, the retail landscape has been changing for a while, with a more demanding customer seeking more authentic and well-considered shopping experiences in return for their brand loyalty. This situation might further push forward the sustainability agenda as a heightened sense of risk or threat permeates society and the economy, but ultimately if brands stick to what they do well, collaborate with the best teams, deliver the best in terms of design, craft and operations, and continue to invest in building a community within their your client base, they will survive and succeed.”


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Watch of the Week: Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph

Roger Dubuis unveils its innovative chronograph collection in Australia for the very first time.

By Josh Bozin 21/05/2024

When avant-garde Swiss watchmaker Roger Dubuis revealed its highly anticipated Chronograph Collection halfway through 2023, it was a testament to its haute horology department in creating such a technical marvel for everyday use. Long at the forefront of cutting-edge design and technological excellence, Roger Dubuis (pronounced Ro-ger Du-BWEE) is no stranger to such acclaim.

Now, fans down under will finally get a taste of the collection that made headlines, with the official Australian unveiling of its Chronograph Collection. Representing precision engineering, extraordinary craftsmanship, and audacious design, this collection, now in its fifth generation, continues to redefine the chronograph category.

Roger Dubuis Australia welcomes the Excalibur Spider Collection to the market, featuring the exquisite Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph, as well as the Excalibur Spider Revuelto Flyback Chronograph (a timepiece made in partnership with Lamborghini Squadra Corse). Each model speaks at lengths to the future of ‘Hyper Horology’—watchmaking, as Roger Dubuis puts it, that pushes the boundaries of traditional watchmaking.

Roger Dubuis

“Roger Dubuis proposes a unique blend of contemporary design and haute horlogerie and the Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph is the perfect illustration of this craft,” says Sadry Keiser, Chief Marketing Officer. “For its design, we took inspiration from the MonovortexTM Split-Seconds Chronograph, while we decided to power the timepiece with an iconic complication, the flyback chronograph, also marking its come back in the Maison’s collections.”

The Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph is bold and flashy—a chronograph made to be seen, especially at its 45mm size. But Roger Dubuis wouldn’t have it any other way. The supercar-inspired watch is certainly captivating in the flesh. Its multi-dimensional design reveals different layers of technical genius as you spend time with it: from its case crafted from lightweight carbon to its hyper-resistant ceramic bezel, black DLC titanium crown, open case back with sapphire crystal, and elegant rubber strap to tie the watch together, it’s a sporty yet incredibly refined timepiece.

The new RD780 chronograph calibre powers the chronograph, a movement fully integrated with two patents: one linked to the second hand of the chronograph and the other to the display of the minute counter. The chronograph also features a flyback function.

The complete set is now available at the Sydney Boutique for those wishing to see the Roger Dubuis Chronograph Collection firsthand.




Model: Roger Dubuis Excalibur Spider Flyback Chronograph
Diameter: 45mm
Material: C-SMC Carbon case
Water resistance: 100m

Movement: RD780 calibre
Complication: Chronograph, date
Functions: hours, minutes, and central seconds
Power reserve: 72 hours

Bracelet: Black rubber strap

Availability: upon request
Price: $150,000

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Federer and Nadal Team Up in New Louis Vuitton Ad

Just in time for the French Open, Louis Vuitton serves up a winning new campaign.

By 19/05/2024

They have scaled the dizzying heights of tennis, and now great rivals and friends Roger Federer and friend Rafael Nadal climb a majestic mountaintop in the new Louis Vuitton campaign.

The latest installment of the LV’s storied Core Values series of ads, once again shot by renowned portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz, reunites two tennis legends who have not faced off against each other since Wimbledon 2019. (Federer retired in 2022 and in his last match teamed up with Nadal in doubles, with the pair famously crying and holding hands afterwards.)

Three thousand metres high in the Italian Dolomites and in less familiar attire than their usual on-court drag, Federer sports a classic Monogram Christopher Backpack that is every bit as elegant as his balletic prowess, while Nadal’s is a fittingly dynamic Monogram Eclipse version.

The campaign recalls the brand’s 2010 grouping of soccer legends Diego Maradona, Pelé and Zinedine Zidane.  

Louis Vuitton’s 2010 campaign featuring Diego Maradona, Pelé and Zinedine Zidane in Madrid’s Café Maravillas. Photo: Annie Leibowitz for Louis Vuitton.

“I know how many important icons have been part of this campaign,” says Nadal. “Being part of it is something I am very proud of—especially sharing it with Roger who has been my biggest rival and is now a close friend.”

Federer adds, “It’s a unique opportunity to be working on this campaign with Rafa. How we could be such great rivals and at the end of our careers be beside each other doing this campaign is very cool.” Tennis fans everywhere agree.

Watch the behind-the-scenes video shot of the new Louis Vuitton campaign.


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Will Smith, Tom Brady And More Celebs Are Team Owners in a New Electric-Boat League

Will all that star power deliver?

By J. George Forant 16/05/2024

At one point during the debut broadcast of the world’s first electric-boat racing circuit, an on-air host stands on a platform overlooking the water and pummels the camera with enthusiasm: “I hope you’re ready for a landmark moment that can change the future of water transportation. The nerves, the excitement, the energy, it’s electric!” Behind her, a few dozen people mill about, leaning on a rail, drinking coffee, staring at their phones. One turns to look at her as if he’d like to ask her to keep it down.

That singular image might best encapsulate the cognitive dissonance that permeates the new UIM E1 Series Championship.

Take the boats. They look like remnants from a Star Wars movie, with long tapered noses leading to a glass-enclosed cockpit flanked on each side by a curving wing that acts as a hydrofoil, allowing the hulls fly over the surface while sending off huge sprays of white foam—but they’re nearly silent and, while they have explosive acceleration, they reach a top speed that wouldn’t even merit a ticket on an interstate.

The Racebird could be out of a Star Wars movie, which is not far off, given its futuristic foils and hyper-drive.

Then there are the team owners, a mélange of famous people who don’t necessarily bring to mind boats or racing. For that matter, they don’t really have anything to do with one another. Sorry, but it’s going to take more than a few brief hype videos and a recorded Zoom call in which the eight celebrities playfully talk trash before anyone believes the relationship between, say, NFL legend Tom Brady and pop singer Marc Anthony contains any real competitive juice.

There’s also the meeting of mission and money. The series defines itself as “committed to healing our coastal waters and ecosystems . . . through innovative clean technologies and aquatic regeneration.” But Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which controls more than $USD700 billion in cash largely derived from oil production, holds a chunk of equity and occupies the top sponsorship space. (Disclosure: Saudi Arabia’s Research and Media Group has invested in Penske Media Corporation, Robb Report‘s parent company).

The series had its first race in Jeddah, with the next scheduled for Venice on May 12. Expansion plans include 15 races globally.

None of it quite seems to go together, and yet, by many measures that first race, held on an inlet of the Red Sea in Jeddah on Feb. 3, was a success. Expect a ninth team headed by a famous Hollywood actor. The series will host seven more races this year, starting on the waterways of Venice on May 12.

All of which raises the question: Can this actually work?

“Boat racing has never really caught on,” admits Powerboat P1 CEO Azam Rangoonwala, who’s been in offshore racing for more than 20 years and is also a principal on E1’s Team Aoki. “We got involved with E1 because we see an opportunity to finally make that breakthrough happen.”

In 2020, Rodi Basso spent a fair part of the year trying to visualise life after the pandemic. Unlike many others, Basso wasn’t so much longing for the way things had been, as attempting to conjure what new world would emerge.

An aerospace engineer who’d transitioned into motorsports, he’d held jobs at Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren Applied Technologies, but he’d recently stepped aside and moved to England in pursuit of some then-undetermined new challenge.

When the world shut down, he started running to stay fit and get out of the house, excursions on which he was often joined by Alejandro Agag, who lived nearby. Agag had founded Formula E and Extreme E, each a successful racing series featuring electric vehicles. The pair had met when Basso, through McLaren, developed an improved battery pack that allowed Formula E drivers to complete a race on a single charge.

E1 founder Alejandro Agag, Racebird designer Sophi Horne and CEO Rodi Basso established the electric raceboat circuit following Agag’s success with Formula E.

Basso, an Italian, and Agag, from Spain, debated the next big thing as they traversed the streets of London. Agag had invested in a start-up, Seabird, that was working on a foiling electric boat, and he asked Basso to help with the engineering. That simple request quickly morphed into a new idea—an electric boat racing series.

Perhaps no two individuals were better positioned to make it happen, and that night Basso created a deck summarizing the concept. The next day, he sent it to Agag who immediately signed on. The E1 World Championship Racing series was born amid expectations that it would become the next trending motorsports entity.

Within months they’d secured exclusive rights to stage electric boat races for 25 years through UIM, the international racing organization, and landed the PIF deal. Asked about the irony of Saudi oil money underwriting a series with a mission of “promoting sustainable energy use in marine sports,” and about assertions of greenwashing and sportswashing, Basso looked away from his computer screen.

CEO Basso, an aerospace engineer with a background in F1 racing, designed the electric drivetrain while Horne designed the foiler.

Turning back, he offered a joke and then framed his answer in terms of investing strategies: “I focus on the day-to-day job of the people working at PIF who study markets and industries and place bets on what will bring the highest return. In that sense, it’s a privilege to be noticed and have that initial funding.”

Asked a similar question via email, Brady chooses not to respond, but otherwise replies: “This is a new competition and it has great growth potential, so it was a no-brainer for me to be involved with E1.”

Basso later adds another point: “PIF’s money allowed us to get going. It paid for the development of the boat and the series. Now we have to stand on our own as a functioning business.”

What will that look like?

Location, location, location. Part of the difficulty for boat racing has been the “where.” Contests usually took place offshore or on small—often remote—lakes that offered flat calm, neither of which are particularly spectator friendly.

In recent years, the Sail GP series has solved that problem with a global race circuit featuring smaller, more maneuverable versions of full America’s Cup boats slugging it out on metropolitan waterways, such as San Francisco Bay and Sydney Harbor. In contrast to traditional America’s Cup racing yachts, the smaller SailGP boats also reduce the costs of building, maintaining, outfitting, and shipping them to races around the world.

“When I decided to get into electric, I researched how to compete with combustion engines, which led to foils,” says Sophi Horne, the CEO of Seabird, who designed the boat for E1. “I started with a cruiser for seven people, but then Alejandro and Rodi asked me to switch focus to a race boat and that led to the Racebird. At seven meters (23 feet), it can run at top speed for roughly 40 minutes.”
E1 has followed the same approach as SailGP, with one-class, techy raceboats, a global tour and extensive social media exposure.

Besides that, the boat looks sleek, part spaceship, part waterbug, as it skitters above the surface. And while 50 knots (92.5 kmph) on a boat is fast—especially an open boat low to the water—it’s not an attention-getting number to the general public. Still, the Racebirds distinguish themselves with a burst of acceleration that’s visible when they compete.

The power comes from a Mercury outboard built specifically for the purpose, with input from Seabird. It has a booster that jacks the output from 100 kilowatts to 150 for 20 seconds per minute, adding to the notable jumps in speed and putting a focus on driver skill and strategy. Each team has two pilots—as they’re called—one male and one female, who alternate turns behind the wheel through a qualifying round, the semi-finals and finals.

“We’re now packaging the propulsion system to sell to other builders,” says Horne. “What drives me is the mission to electrify boats, so we want to partner with other companies out there and help build the infrastructure with fast charging that we’ll need.”

ach team has one female and one male driver who both race. Team Brady’s Emma Kimiläinen and Sam Coleman won race 1 in Jeddah.

The series’s green agenda goes beyond pushing the development of electric engines, high-output batteries and hydrofoils, which reduce drag in increase efficiency by lifting the boat’s hull out of the water. E1 intends to employ sustainable practices on-site at events—including the use of local vendors—and install and leave in place high-speed electric charging stations at each locale.

According to its website, organizers will collaborate on coastal restoration projects and education initiatives directed by chief scientist Carlos Duarte, an ocean ecology professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

“One of the barriers to ownership and sponsorship in powerboat racing has been the sustainability question,” says Rangoonwala of Powerboat P1. “E1 answers that question up front by building it into the mission.”

Whatever seeming contradictions arise from the use of PIF funds, the series has already had a real-world impact. Mercury Marine has incorporated much of the technology it developed for the Racebird engines into its Avator electric outboards. More than 12,000 Avators have been built in the last year. “Racebird was a good place for us to start,” David Foulkes, CEO of Brunswick Corp., Mercury’s parent, tells Robb Report. “It was a way to gain experience in a controlled environment, where the boats are centrally maintained.”

F1’s Sergio Perez was the first A-lister to sign up, followed by tennis great Rafael Nadal. The others soon followed.

Basso calls Agag a “marketing genius” for the way he tapped into existing audiences for Formula E and Extreme E by luring well-known names from Formula 1 and extreme racing—and their social media followings—into the fold. It’s a proven approach, but one that would not work for E1. “Unfortunately, in powerboat racing, there are no star drivers or famous owners,” Basso says.

The alternative involved finding celebrities from other walks of life to invest in teams. “First, we approached Sergio Perez and evidently our presentation was done right because he joined, then Rafa Nadal signed up,” Basso says. “The rest came as a consequence of a sort of missing-out syndrome, which worked out nicely for us.”

The sell might have been easy, but the selections reflect the sort of calculated demographic cross-section that would make a pollster drool. Besides Brady, the white American hero of seven Super Bowls, Smith, the Black Hollywood superstar, Nadal, the internationally known Spanish tennis star, Anthony, the Grammy-winning musician with Latino roots, and Perez, a Formula 1 driver from Mexico, there’s Didier Drogba, a Black European soccer icon from Ivory Coast; Steve Aoki, a world-renown DJ of Japanese descent; Virat Kohli, a cricket star from India; and Marcelo Claure, a Bolivian tech entrepreneur.

All appear engaged at the outset, sitting for video interviews and promoting the series on social media. Four showed up for the opening race and Brady plans to be in Venice. “I’ve been involved in a few things since retiring but this racing series has been incredible,” Brady tells Robb Report. “I love competition and racing. Seeing the vision of the sport come to life has been very fun and fulfilling.”

Basso says he and Agag intentionally created a “business mechanism that would give owners skin in the game and keep them engaged.” The owners put up €2 million (about $2.15 million) to license a team. E1 owns the series and the boats and handles all the logistics, including transportation, for which they charge teams another €1 million. The buy-in, Basso says, will go up for Year 2, since three of the original eight license holders have already resold them at five times the initial investment.

To ensure those values keep rising, E1 plans to cap the series at 12 or 15 teams competing in 15 races, hopefully by Year 3, with five events in Asia, five in the Mid-East/Europe and five in the West, where potential venues include Miami, Mexico and Brazil.

To help control costs, the boats must run as they come out of the box, and though teams can hire as many engineers as they want back at headquarters, they can’t have more than seven crew members, including drivers, on the dock during races.

The concept, launched in Venice in 2022, will return there this weekend.

“They made some really smart decisions to limit costs at the outset,” says Ben King, one of of Team Brady’s co-principals. “The plan is to start modifying the boats in Year 3, which would mean greater outlays for teams, but by then, hopefully, the circuit will be well established.”

Teams can bring on sponsors outside those attached to the wider series, including everything from patches on pilot uniforms to on-the-boat decals to partnerships that showcase technology. Visibility shouldn’t be a problem. E1 has both linear and streaming deals with 120 broadcasters that range from Asia through India, MENA, Europe, and the Americas, where CBS owns the US television rights.

In all, E1 says its global reach extends to 1.7 billion people, and media coverage of the Jeddah race in February had a total reach of 2.1 billion, with 125 million digital impressions. “For the first race, we are pleased,” Basso says. “We have a long way in front of us, but we are pleased.”

On the course at Jeddah, the four finalists line up for the rolling start of the final race, among them Team Brady. As the boats pass the marker buoy signaling the beginning of the first-ever E1 championship, three surge ahead while the Brady boat founders and wobbles forward, dropping to last.

In the previous heat, Brady’s Emma Kimiläinen finished third, meaning teammate Sam Coleman has to not just win the heat but make up the time deficit to claim the title. As the boats approach the first turn, Coleman mashes the booster and jolts forward, closing the gap and creating a three-boat bottleneck around the first buoy.

The scene turns chaotic as the boats speed through the curve within yards of each other and geysers of whitewater and churning wakes fill the space around them. Emerging into the straight, they jockey for the lead. “Racing these boats is super intense—insane,” says Coleman. “The trick is constantly managing the foil height. Too much power and the boat will drop and you’ll lose speed. The working window is so small, and while you don’t have engine noise, there’s feedback through cavitation and vibration that you have to learn to feel.”

Staying on the foils is tricky, but key to winning.

Most of the drivers have come from other disciplines, motorcycles, cars, even Jet Skis and WaveRunners. Coleman started in motocross, then teamed with his sister to become a world champion and two-time U.K. champ in P1 Powerboat. Whether it’s that experience or his feel for his craft, Coleman’s boat levels and rises high on its foils as it shoots to the front.

Through the next turns, Coleman’s lead builds, creating another bit of intrigue. The course layout consists of a small oval inside a larger one, something like a paperclip. Over a five-lap race, each driver must circumnavigate the inner oval four times and the outer once. As Coleman continues to pull away, the question of when to take the long lap rises.

The Racebird and electric engines will be redesigned for season 2 if the series is successful.

And while that gives the announcers something to talk about, it also highlights a shortcoming. The moments of close-quarters racing, the nuance of working the trim and booster and the strategic quirk of the long lap all make for good, engaging viewing. At the same time, the difficulty of keeping the boats running clean on the foils and the long lap spread the field, sapping most of the drama from the action. Those instances of intense, close-quarters racing are few and far between.

Ultimately, that’s what success will come down to: Will people understand the level of skill and strategy on display and will the competition hold up? A sustainability mission and a few 30-second hype videos from Tom Brady (whose team pulled through in Jeddah as the winner) provide a sense of purpose and attract eyeballs, but for people to continually show up and tune in—to pay up—the races themselves have to deliver.

Formula E and Extreme have made it work. Will E1? Ladies and gentlemen, start your very-quiet engines.


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10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Porsche

The automaker is a sports car standard-bearer with a long, impressive history in racing.

By Bob Sorokanich 16/05/2024

Porsche has long stood at the pinnacle of automotive achievement. The automaker has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 19 times—more than any other competitor—and has successfully competed in everything from rally racing to Formula 1. The history of Porsche vehicle production is equally impressive, as the company rose from the rubble of World War II to become one of the most widely recognised luxury and performance brands in the world today. Let’s dive into the history of Porsche with 10 facts you might not have known about the German brand.

Photo: Keystone

Ferdinand Porsche was born in 1875 in what is now the Czech Republic. Despite the fact that he had little formal education, from an early age Porsche was recognised as a brilliant engineer. In 1901, Porsche built the world’s first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, a motorised carriage that used a Daimler internal-combustion engine to generate power for electric motors in the wheels. Soon, Porsche was hired as technical director of Stuttgart-based Daimler, where he worked on Mercedes race cars including the hugely successful Mercedes-Benz SSK.

Photo: Fox Photos

In 1931, Ferdinand Porsche launched the company that still bears his name today. It wasn’t a car-building operation: Dr. Ing h.c. F. Porsche GmbH was a consulting agency, supplying design and engineering expertise to various automakers. Soon after launching his company, Ferdinand Porsche received an assignment directly from German Chancellor Adolf Hitler: A project to build a simple, durable, affordable vehicle that could be purchased by everyday Germans, codenamed Volkswagen, or “people’s car.”

Photo: Topical Press Agency

Ferdinand Porsche unveiled the first Volkswagen prototype in 1935; in 1939, the Volkswagen factory began production, with Ferdinand Porsche appointed as an executive. As part of his work with the government of Nazi Germany, Porsche renounced his Czechoslovak citizenship, joined the Nazi Party, and became a member of the SS paramilitary group. Ferdinand Porsche contributed to the design and engineering of Nazi tanks and troop transport vehicles, and after World War II ended, he was arrested for war crimes including the use of forced labor, serving 20 months in prison in France.


Following the end of World War II, Ferdinand Porsche’s son, Ferry, sought to build a sports car according to his father’s vision. In 1947, the first examples of the Porsche 356 were assembled in a small sawmill in Gmünd, Austria, where the Porsche family had moved operations to avoid Allied bombing. The 356 bore some resemblance to the Volkswagen, and like that vehicle, it used a rear-mounted four-cylinder engine along with some other VW components.

Photo: Porsche

Porsche built several versions of the 356 until 1965, but by the end, the vehicle was badly out-of-date. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, grandson of the company’s founder, designed a new rear-engine sports car, this time with an air-cooled six-cylinder engine. The company intended to call this model 901, which was the internal code-name for the project, but Peugeot owned the trademark on all three-digit model numbers with a zero in the middle, so the name was swiftly changed to 911.

Photo: Wesley

Porsche found racing success with the 356, 911, and various competition-only prototypes, but the automaker’s rise to motorsport dominance began with the 917. First shown publicly in 1969, the 917 was the brainchild of Ferdinand Piëch, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche who would later go on to lead the entire Volkswagen Group. The race car used an air-cooled mid-mounted flat-12 engine, and it was so compact, the driver’s feet sat ahead of the front axle. After some early developmental troubles, the 917 became a dominant endurance racer, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Monza 1,000km, the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 km, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans back-to-back in 1970 and 1971. The 917 was a monster, reliably cresting 230 mph at Le Mans in an era when the typical racing prototype couldn’t break 200, and it launched Porsche on a path to becoming the winningest manufacturer in Le Mans history.

Photo: Porsche

The late 1970s were difficult for sports car companies, and in 1980 Porsche had its first year of financial losses. The 911 had gone without significant updates and was slated for cancellation, with the front-engine, V8-powered 928 intended to replace it. Newly-appointed CEO Peter Schutz, who was born in Germany but was raised in the U.S., realised that the impending death of the 911—considered the quintessential Porsche sports car—was contributing to low morale at Porsche. Schutz walked into the office of chief Porsche engineer Helmuth Bott, where a chart showed continued production of the 928 and 944, and the end of 911 production in 1981. In a scene that has become legend, Schultz took a marker from Bott’s desk, extending the 911’s line off the chart, onto the office wall, and out the door—signifying that the 911 would never be canceled. “Do we understand each other?” Schultz asked, and Bott nodded in the affirmative.

Photo: Porsche

In 1986, Porsche unveiled a supercar that shared the general shape of the 911, but was shockingly advanced in nearly every way: The 959. Developed to compete in Group B rally racing, the street-legal 959 had a twin-turbo engine making 326 kilowatts, Kevlar composite bodywork, wide-body fenders, and all-wheel drive. It soon became the fastest production car in the world, sprinting from zero to 96 in 3.7 seconds and reaching a 317 kmph top speed.

Photo: Porsche

Amazingly, from 1963 to 1997, Porsche never undertook a full redesign of the 911. In 1998, a brand-new sports car emerged. Internally known as Type 996, the all-new 911 had a completely redesigned body shell and an all-new flat-six engine that, for the first time, was cooled by water rather than air. Early 996s shared their front bodywork and some interior panels with the more affordable mid-engine Boxster, causing some controversy among Porsche fans, but today the 996 is considered the model that saved the Porsche 911.

Photo : Porsche

In 2002, Porsche introduced the Cayenne, the automaker’s first sport-utility vehicle. A few years later, in 2009, the four-door Panamera luxury sedan was launched. Today, Porsche’s best-selling model is the Macan, a small SUV, with the Cayenne not far behind. The automaker also sells an all-electric sport sedan, the Taycan, and is moving toward the future with plans for hybrid and all-electric sports cars.

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Sitting on the Dock of Balmain

Is The Dry Dock Sydney’s Hottest New Pub Renovation?

By Belinda Aucott-christie 15/05/2024

At its peak, in the late 1890s, Balmain had 55 pubs. They were noisy watering holes that serviced thirsty hordes after a day’s labour at the suburb’s harbourside coal mine and shipyards. Today, Balmain is dotted with charming workers’ cottages set behind picket fences and stolid corner pubs, which have been converted into restaurants and homes.

One such establishment, the Dry Dock on Cameron Street, has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation. As an original public house built in 1857, it remains fixed in a local backstreet and offers a porthole to the suburb’s blue-collar roots.

Locals can still bring their dogs into the front bar, or retreat to the lounge to sit next to a crackling log fire. 

The renovation carried out by Studio Isgro and H&E Architects combines rustic touches—like the acid-etched sandstone exterior, exposed brickwork and beams  —with elegant light fittings, an incredible sound system and tasteful art. “It has a transportive, escapist quality, where you could be anywhere, or right at home,” says interior designer Bianca Isgro of Studio Isgro, who spent two years on the overhaul. Her team designed a modern gastropub on the site after gutting and stripping the building, which had been neglected for years. 

Founder and managing director James Ingram (ex-Solotel and Merivale) has assembled a warm, friendly service team that matches the pub’s character. He says his team has fought hard to preserve the pub’s long-standing connection to residents and to get the mix of old and new right.

“Balmain is home to so many devoted residents who are rightly proud of the suburb’s working-class roots,” says Ingram over a frothy beer in the warm-toned front bar.

“The Dry Dock has been designed to have that timeless feel that stands the test of time.” 

The large open kitchen features an oyster bar and serves French-style fare, delicious sides, and hot desserts. The wine list is on point, with something in every price range and a friendly sommelier doing the rounds. 

The kitchen is led by seasoned chef Ben Sitton, who previously rattled the pans at institutions including Felix, Uccello and Rockpool Bar & Grill. His kitchen faces a large dining room with unclothed tables, bentwood chairs, tumbled marble floors and exposed trusses that give it a contemporary feel.

The back of the room overlooks a walled garden, with a giant ghost gum at its centre and views of neighbouring residential fences. 


Chef Sitton says his team relishes the opportunity to cook from an expansive modern European repertoire with quality produce. The robust flavours and textures are centred around the smoky quality that comes from Josper charcoal grills, wood-fired ovens, and the rotisserie.  

You can order steak frites with charred baby carrots, or baked market fish with a cheesy, potato gratin.

The Peninsula Hospitality Group, the team behind Dry Dock, is now looking to expand its foothold in Balmain by opening at least one other venue.

Visit for the food, stay for the vibe.

The Dry Dock, Public House & Dining Room, 22 Cameron Street, Balmain, NSW 2041. P: 02 9555 1306;

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