New London concept store embodies the retail trend that defies categorisation

Dubbed ‘the Oscars of the design world’, the Design Museum’s international Design Awards annually showcase its pick of the best innovations from the creative sphere. Yet its division into seven distinct categories – Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Product and Transport – is perhaps becoming an anachronistic framework into which some of today’s more progressive, boundary-merging creations don’t neatly fit.

Such is the case for one of this year’s nominees for the Fashion category: the Late Night Chameleon Cafe (LN-CC) in Dalston, London. An architecturally stunning interior is the nest for an ‘all-encompassing world’ designed by renowned artist and set designer Gary Card. The 6,000 sq-ft space combines traditional fashion retail with art galleries, record and arts book outlets and a ‘club space’ complete with vintage sound system, elegantly woven together by a labyrinth of wooden passageways.

The physical presence of these ‘concept rooms’ extends into LN-CC’s virtual counterpart, with a website that hosts interviews with designers and photographers as well as mixes from its in-house DJs, all fully interactive in English, Japanese and Chinese, and partial translation in Korean.

Of course, it’s not the first of its kind – Paris’ Colette, to name but one, has been successfully running a comparably concept-focused boutique since 1997 – but it is dawning upon the retail industry with increasing perspicacity that it’s not enough just to sell things anymore; nowadays, it’s more about the mood than the product. LN-CC describe their project as ‘more than a store, it’s an evolving platform of curated ideas encompassing clothing, music and art in both a physical and digital environment.’

It can be dangerous turf though. As numerous cases have shown, it’s all too easy for an innovative ‘concept store’ to spiral into the pit of pretension. Take for example Shoreditch’s painfully self-conscious Boxpark, ‘the world’s first pop-up mall’; aren’t we all just a little bit tired of upcycled shipping containers now?

But it’s so far, so good for LN-CC. And with that fragmented, honey-coloured, octagonal tunnel that navigates you through its haven of carefully considered consumerism, it’s worth going in for the architecture alone.

See more about the Design Awards here. All nominations will be exhibited at the Design Museum, London from 8 February, with results announced in April.

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