When New York creative agency School House took on the challenge of globally redefining British skincare brand ELEMIS, halfway was never an option. The new kids on the Flatiron block, who, in their first six years, have amassed a veritable who’s-who client portfolio, saw a unique opportunity. ELEMIS, whose holistic approach to beauty has earned it a legion of devotees, put themselves fully in School House’s hands to reimagine their retail strategy in a way that honors the path it has trodden while planting its feet firmly in modernity.
The London flagship at venerable Harrods was School House’s first hurdle. Custom wallpaper developed in collaboration with the famed Morris & Co., expertly finished Georgian architectural cues, and of course a London phone booth (to display Harrods exclusives) rendered in a rich saxon blue, give the proudly British brand a fitting home base. Elements of this design language, including the booth and the stately geometric tile, can be found in retail spaces across more than 45 countries in which ELEMIS operates. And, while School House leaves room for local design flourishes to suit each locale’s needs, the through line is an unquestionable elegance and a synergetic expression of the brand’s DNA.
Below, we take a closer look at the project.
Project Description: Inspired by the concept of “Augmented Time,” the stores are a permeable conversation between British heritage, the present client, and future innovation. The design mirrors Elemis’ brand ethos: elevated, fundamentally British, with striking modern elements and serene touches that recall our connection to nature.
Inspiration: To express the true essence of the ELEMIS brand at shopping destinations around the world, we felt it was paramount at every turn to draw inspiration from a creative foundation that could be scalable based on the duality between old and new. The result is a compelling and luxurious footprint that immediately draws you in—from the use of traditional architectural elements like ornamental millwork to innovative lighting to stylish salon walls and modern product fixtures—all of which are signature to ELEMIS and customized to embrace the geography of each retail location.
Blueprint: It’s a rare opportunity to impact an already successful skincare brand by bringing a new vision to life through modern-day storytelling—especially in an iconic shopping destination, like the one-and-only Harrods. We began our exploration of ELEMIS’ rich and varied brand ethos by asking, how can the sensoriality of scent affect results in skin care? We uncovered the striking base, heart, and top notes that make ELEMIS profound, bold, and memorable. This helped to create a retail strategy that engaged the consumer’s needs and emotions at the same time. It’s an ecosystem where branding lives within the physicality of the space, in much the same way that ELEMIS creates its beautiful, natural products.
Takeaways / Uniqueness: Our expertise of physical space is a cut-through process of merging strategy, experiences, creative direction, architecture, and interior design. It was interesting to design and open physical stores during the COVID-19 pandemic. We started the collaboration a couple of months before the health crisis started, and as it progressed, we had to adjust the design to adapt to new consumer habits and priorities. Besides some new hygiene, product testing, and sampling adaptations, we also added more emphasis on state-of-the-art skin diagnosis and treatments that can’t be done at home. These experiences were glorified through designing private or semi-private custom banquettes, booths, and lounges.
We also developed more custom patterns, like the Morris & Co wallpaper, and materials to add more contrast of colors and materials. We wanted to make sure the material palette is recognizable and unique to the brand while also creating an immersive environment. The ELEMIS rebrand shows our passion for highly expressive detail, grandiose moments, and beauty brand building in three dimensions.
This past year, the LVMH alum and School House founder Christopher Skinner dished on how storytelling can propel brands in the digital age why vulnerability is key to creating genuine, thoughtful branding.