In the bag

Niche bag brand Crumpler has created a flagship store in Melbourne which is truly “out of the bag”. It’s literally made out of bags.

“This brief was an interesting one because we weren’t really given a brief,” says Ryan Russell, one half of Russell & George, of working with long term retail client and bag designer, Crumpler, for its first ever shopping centre store at Westfield Doncaster.

Instead, the award-winning Australian architecture and design firm spent months brainstorming, collaborating, and “throwing everything up in the air” with the retailer’s brand director, Sam Davy.

“The final idea actually came to us when Sam and I were on a trip to Sydney and we were sitting in front of their Strand store. It happened in about a 15-minute sketching,” says Russell.

Of course, it wasn’t just all doodling. Davy says the brand, which has 13 stores in Australia and 14 in countries like the US, Canada, and Singapore, was determined to make the product hero.

Ease of product display, simple and timeless design, and a central island “that would provoke circulation around the store” were also important, but, overall, there was one big factor at play.

“We wanted to do something that was different as it was our first small store,” says Davy, of the brand’s somewhat hesitant decision to move into Westfield Doncaster in Melbourne.

“Previous to this site we had a lot of strip shops. When you’re doing streets it comes with the character that the building around it has,” he says.

“So we just didn’t feel right to go into a mall and putting in a glass front. We’d have just been part of that experience when you’re wandering around a mall and all of the stores look the same.”

Luckily, Crumpler knew just the right people for that dilemma. Russell & George, a partnership between Ryan Russell and Byron George, creates the unexpected, whether it’s for commercial, hospitality, or retail.

For instance, for skincare retailer, Aesop, which was also its first shopping centre site, the firm implemented a shopfront with an air gap, so that alluring scents can be wafted out to pedestrians.


“We tend to try and design for the shopping centre. It’s a forgotten experience,” says Russell.

“A lot of people expect it to be the same so we try and reinvent all the components. What that eventually means is that you get people to go into the store.”
The 86sqm result literally represents Crumpler: it’s made of bags.

“We really liked the idea of building a store out of the materials that our product is from,” says Davy of the 20 year old brand, which started out in Ballarat in rural Victoria.

“The [Doncaster] store is about promoting the idea that our bags are so tough, that you can literally make a store out of them.”

Features are crafted from unusual elements, such as rubber lining, buckles and clips, powder-coated steel, and the brand’s iconic red seatbelt-style bag straps.
This latter element was destined to become the hero of the space, with red “webbing” engulfing the glass shopfront and laced across the walls of the rectangular store.
It’s a design feature that’s not just visually impressive, but functional, with the wall webbing incorporating hooks to hang Crumpler’s iconic product from.

Award winning

But achieving this – something Davy says he’s “not seen anybody else do” – was easier said than done, with materials needing to be stringently tested to ensure they were malleable, strong, and wouldn’t fray.

“We had to experiment with what the webbing was capable of. We didn’t quite understand it, and had to test it quite stringently in our office,” says Russell.

“That bit was a lot of fun. There was a lot of prototyping done in our office and ideas flowing back and forth with the guys at Crumpler.”

All that testing is now paying off. After launching in September 2010, the space has received a bunch of awards, including the Australian Interior Design award for Retail Design in 2011.

The store has also been recognised globally, with two World Retail Awards at the 2012 International Store Design Awards Gala held at New York’s iconic Times Square.

Functional features

But it’s not just the webbing that’s gathering attention, with one of Crumpler’s central requests, the grandstand, also privy to special design features.

“When people come into Crumpler stores, they tend to bring their current bags and empty out their contents and try it to see if it will fit in a new one,” says Russell.

Any central display counter has to essentially double as a customer testing area, with heavy-duty Crumpler buyers like professional photographers needing to unpack objects like lenses to see how they’ll they’ll fare.

“This meant we needed a lot of space for people to essentially get their stuff out and try the bags. We really think the central island allows for this,” says Russell.
One of its most thoughtful details is “a subtle lip” that rolls upwards, meaning that a customer’s emptied out contents, from loose coins to camera lenses, won’t roll onto the floor.

“It is simple stuff like that which allows people to play around with the bags. At the end of the day, Crumpler really, really wants them to try their bags out,” says Russell.
While elements of the Doncaster site, namely the webbing, is incorporated at other stores, Davy says the award-winning space won’t be seen in all Crumpler stores.

“We haven’t really rolled it out anywhere else. We don’t like to do that,” he says.

“We approach each location fresh and keep the same principles. It’s about provoking circulation and having the grandstand. It’s all site specific design.”

For instance, Crumpler’s Fitzroy site is made out of concrete paving slabs stacked to form grandstands, whereas in Perth there is a focus on blue metal framing.

Over in New York in the hip West Village, Crumpler is all about a contemporary warehouse feel.

“In New York, we wanted it to feel like an art gallery so it’s very clean. Wherever we go, it’s about standing out from the area, but also paying homage to where we are located,” says Davy.

Mostly designed by Russell & George, of course: so far the firm has had more than a finger in six of Crumpler’s stores.

“Ryan and I work very, very closely together. It’s a very collaborative process,” says Davy.

This feature originally appeared in the magazine edition of Inside Retail. To subscribe to the bi-monthly magazine, click here. 

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