Sails tactics: Yellow Earth Emporium

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An undulating screen of yarn was strung up by expert yacht riggers.

An undulating screen of yarn was strung up by expert yacht riggers. Image: Nic Granleese

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When viewed from the side, the rope screen appears like a curtain.

When viewed from the side, the rope screen appears like a curtain. Image: Nic Granleese

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Products are stored in a visually expressive way, as seen with the “walls of boxes,” where yellow earth’s sheepskin boots are kept.

Products are stored in a visually expressive way, as seen with the “walls of boxes,” where yellow earth’s sheepskin boots are kept. Image: Nic Granleese

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Artwork by Sean Morris is used on a wall behind the point of sale.

Artwork by Sean Morris is used on a wall behind the point of sale. Image: Nic Granleese

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Tandem Design Studio has given sheepskin company Yellow Earth’s flagship store at Emporium Melbourne an expressive and tactile “shop window.”

The story of sheepskin and lifestyle product company Yellow Earth is an unconventional one, and as such the creation of this new prototype store is the first chapter in the maturing of a brand that has been building its reputation internationally since 1991. Started in Victoria, Yellow Earth has over the past couple of decades exported its product successfully to China, with a broad network of stores on the mainland. In an atypical move, this highly successful Australian export business is now leveraging its international gains to create a more heavily branded, premium and refined retail experience back here in Australia, as a precursor to renewing its international properties. This was the task taken on by Tandem Design Studio: not just designing another store, but the creation of an expressive and bold new language for an established brand.

Creating the new flagship store, located at the Emporium Melbourne shopping centre, involved a considerable amount of prototyping, which came with a degree of risk. Shopping centre operators are by reputation somewhat conservative and tend to favour tried-and-tested solutions, partic ularly in their tenant’s shopfronts. By successfully testing and refining prototypes, the team at Tandem Design Studio was able to win support for their unconventional “shop window,” and the store design found behind it.

Inspired by a number of art and installation sources, the frontage contains the signature move of the store design, an undulating screen of yarn elements (six kilometres’ worth) strung up by expert yacht riggers, resulting in a glass-free interface between the store and the shopping centre’s common spaces. Tim Hill of Tandem Design Studio spoke to me about the process of winning support for their unconventional proposal. Doing so meant drawing on Hill’s personal history and experience with sailing, and his tactile understanding of the tensile forces and expressive potential of what is essentially “rigging.”

Products are stored in a visually expressive way, as seen with the “walls of boxes,” where yellow earth’s sheepskin boots are kept. Image:  Nic Granleese

The undulating screen has two quite different visual properties. When viewed from the side, as one moves towards the store, the screen looks opaque and expresses the formal envelope as a visual curtain. However, when one is standing before the screen, looking directly into the store, it becomes transparent, and the curated elements displayed in the shopfront become visible.

Inside the store, the yarn rigging is employed to create additional enclosed areas for particular product lines, with circular enclosures displaying individual collections on custom-made black-steel stands. Once again, when viewed from afar, the enclosures form singular cone-like envelopes suspended in the space of the store. Up close, the sense of enclosure becomes much more ephemeral and transparent.

The designers’ approach to merchandise display is both direct and engaging, with the storage of stock used as a visually expressive element. This is most obvious in the “walls of boxes,” the right-angled walls on the left-hand side of the store, which are reached via a raised platform and a moving library-style ladder. Within these boxes are the myriad colours and sizes of sheepskin boots available for purchase in the store, and the stacked boxes themselves create small platforms for the display of product.

In the centre of the ceiling, the store is finished with a cluster of felt light fittings created by Meg Geer of Laeta Loca Arts and Design, another tactile expression of one of the raw ingredients that Yellow Earth trades in. The atmosphere of the store is completed by such details – small moves, with the textural and material qualities of the merchandise pushed to the foreground at every chance.

While the flagship store may still be considered a work in progress that is being fine-tuned as it trades, Tandem Design Studio has taken a brand and product and given it a pleasing, tactile new expression. The translation of the lessons learnt at Emporium back into the broader store network will be a herculean labour, but one that is likely to yield dividends for this successful Australian business.


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