If you've been to one of Kith's New York boutiques—and let's face it, you probably have—then you've already seen the work of Snarkitecture. The co-founders of the architecture-meets-design firm, Alex Mustonen and Daniel Arsham, worked with Kith founder Ronnie Fieg to develop the eye-catching design elements employed in each shop, including Kith's famous Jordan ceiling installations. (They also designed a central lounge on the ComplexCon floor, and have worked with Pharrell, En Noir, COS, Beats by Dre, and many, many others.) So, needless to say, the three were well-acquainted when they joined Complex News anchor Jinx this afternoon for a panel discussion at ComplexCon called "The Collision of Design, Music, and Entertainment."
After a brief overview of their work together, the trio teased a few new details about Kith's soon-to-be-opened Miami boutique. The Jordan installation will be back—they'll use Jordan V's this time—but the shop will represent the next evolution of Snarkitecture's partnership with Fieg. "Miami is a very different design," Arsham said, citing the use of materials like terrazzo floors to give the space some local flavor, a departure from the liberal use of black and white, marble, and stainless steel in their other locations.
Fieg noted that the design of each Kith store is an integral element to the overall brand. "It took time for the brand to form an identity," he explained. "It took a while, because at first, we weren't a brand. We were a retailer. A lot of [the brand identity] goes back to Snarkitecture for their design aesthetic and what we did together to create a solid feel."
Kith's retail strategy and Snarkitecture's design work are closely intertwined in practical ways, too. The tiny Kith women's space in Manhattan, for example, forced Fieg and his team to carefully consider each product they stock in the store. "We also had to focus on which [design] elements were important," Mustonen added. That shop's dumbwaiter—used to bring sneakers up from the basement stockroom—is a flashy aesthetic choice, but also frees up precious space that a stairwell ate up in early plans. Ultimately, it all came together to achieve Fieg's vision. "I wanted to give a moment to the female who can come into the space and have her own experience," he said.
Giving his customers experiences to remember is a driving motivation for Feig, and one of the reasons he left his job at a chain retailer to strike out on his own with Kith. "Even if the product sells out, it's important for the consumer to know the story. That's the whole motto for Kith, and the future for retail," he said.
Sometimes that works in counterintuitive ways, like a Brooklyn shop with 30% empty space; while most other retailers cram product into their stores in an effort to make as much money per square foot as possible, Fieg places greater value on giving shoppers the unique sensation of unmistakably walking into Kith. Mustonen said that choices like that are "radical" for retail. "You have to go through three different spaces before you get to the store," he said. "There's something unexpected and memorable there." While the three admire other boutiques for their approach to retail—they named Colette, Dover Street Market, and 10 Corso Como as stores they think are done well—their aesthetic vision isn't influenced by other shop owners. "As far as design with Snarkitecture, it's design from scratch," Fieg said. "There's no reference board."
Along with giving attendees a closer look into their creative process, the panel also provided Fieg with a platform to share memories from his early days in the sneaker industry. When he worked at sneaker chain David Z, for example, he said Jay Z would come by every weekend to buy a new pair of Timberlands. "He would sign the old ones," Fieg said. "I'd sell them to my friends at school."
The panel concluded with advice to young people looking to follow in Fieg and Snarkitecture's professional footsteps. "Attach yourself to a great business," Fieg advised. "Leverage them the way they leverage you. Put in hard work." Arsham added, "If you're not receiving tons of rejection, you're not really doing enough."