Blank walls open for drawing, tarot card readings, and old-timey carnival games: Not exactly what springs to mind when thinking about a fashion boutique. But for Coach's new pop-up, that's just what the brand wanted. Life Coach, which opens tonight on New York's Grand street and runs through June 17, is the anti-shop, a vastly different experience than the brand's flagship store a few dozen blocks uptown. The one thing the two spaces share? A celebration of the heritage of New York.
Working with set designer Simon Costin, Coach has devised an otherworldly group of spaces that eschew product placement (though eagle-eyed visitors will spot a few touches of the brand's C-motif and other, newer icons) in favor of an experimental activation that encourages self-discovery and reflection.
"It asks more questions than it answers," Costin tells AD PRO on an early walkthrough of the space the morning of opening night. "The idea was for people to each take away something really different. It doesn’t give a concrete answer." Upon entry, visitors find themselves in a tented "check-in space," where a checkered floor and stacks of old TVs showing seemingly disjointed imagery are meant to be "a bit disorienting," Costin says.
After pushing through one of the curtains of streamers that separate each room, I had to blink to adjust my eyes in the next space: A near-perfect facsimile of a New York City subway station, but rendered completely in white. "It’s literally a blank canvas," says Costin. At a booth in the center of the space are stickers and paint markers, with which visitors are expected to decorate their surroundings in the tradition of street art and graffiti.
Next up? "It's Coney Island," Costin says gleefully as we make our way into a room full of flashing neon lights, arcade games, and all other manner of traditional carnival ephemera (including a Zoltan machine where, in exchange for one of the tokens guests get at entry, they can receive a custom fortune). On the floor is a literal connection with New York's amusement park island: The boardwalk is made up from pieces salvaged from Coney Island's when it was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. The room marries such local references with more whimsical touches for an experience that feels just the right amount detached from reality. "In the back of my mind was Scooby Doo," quips Costin. "There was always a haunted fairground."
Finally, visitors enter an enchanted forest, where white tents will house tarot card readers, the final mode of self-reflection and a push into the future before they return to the streets of New York. In keeping with the theme of mystery, each day at the pop-up will bring new surprises in terms of programming and special guests (from DJs to fortune-tellers). All without a handbag in sight, the event just may be the ultimate example of today's trend towards experiential marketing.
Life Coach runs June 13—17; admission is free and appointments can be booked at startyourlife.coach
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