Raw and edgy, YKK’s first ever showroom has a rare quality.
Going against the conventional minimalist white cube design, the distinctive space surprises visitors through its industrial character. Designed by long-time YKK collaborator, avant-garde fashion designer and trained architect, Kei Kagami, the showroom was inspired by the Japanese brand’s extensive manufacturing history.
Established in 1934 by Tadao Yoshida, the Japanese brand is a major player in the fashion world. Making close to half of all the zippers in the world, YKK is the leader of the global billion-dollar zipper industry, operating in more than 70 countries and with over 40,000 employees. At the forefront of trends, it is also driving innovations with the steady patenting of new fastening systems. The architectural concept of the showroom reflects the company, combining its spirit of tradition and creativity. Having lived in London for over 25 years, Kagami, the Japanese-born designer was the best candidate to bring together Japanese and British design within the space.
Architect and avant-garde fashion Designer Kei Kagami’s architectural work reflects YKK’s tradition and creativity
“The digital image doesn’t replace the physical experience, consumers prefer samples to images”
With apparent iron beams, steel wall panels and rusted sheets, it is somewhat akin to the steampunk aesthetics in a way that it feels both timeless and futuristic.
Its central feature, metallic cabinets suspended from the ceiling, transform the showroom into the bowel of a motionless mechanical object, while the designer’s signature showpieces adorn the space, set up as a silent cast, turning the shop windows into a stage and the street into its audience.
The various workshop stations dispersed around the space highlight its function as a learning platform, focused on an analogue, hands-on experience – in opposition to the trend for commercial environments to be developed into the seemingly physical extension of a digital experience. After all, as Anna Stefaniak, YKK’s Communication Executive remarked, despite today’s global visual-driven culture, “the digital image doesn’t replace the physical experience, consumers prefer samples to images”.
Designed as an ‘industrial Sanctuary’, YKK’s London showroom feels both timeless and futuristic
Located on Commercial Street, in the heart of Shoreditch, the 160 square meter space is an expression of the brand’s dedication to bring its expertise to the wider public, with new facilities, including the first ever in-store Snap & Button attaching service. With the complete range on display, new and classic designs, customers can now test out YKK’s high-quality and cutting-edge products; and for the first time, they will be able to buy fastening systems in small quantities (even single items), a great news for young designers and smaller business owners.
Conceived as a creative hub for the fashion community and beyond, the space is intended as an event hotspot to strengthen the brand’s relationship with the creative industries through workshops and personalised appointments with specialists. The London showroom undoubtedly marks the start of a new chapter for the brand, and possibly, the beginning of YKK’s growing physical presence.
YKK showroom, 154 Commercial Street, London, E1 6NU
A small space making a big difference for the YKK brand
Interview with Kei Kagami, architect of the showroom and long-time YKK creative consultant
– Could you describe your involvement with YKK? How and when did it start?
In 1998, I had the idea of making clothes from zips, so I approached YKK Europe with this idea and YKK became the sponsor for my collection. For a couple of years, we made some experimental pieces using YKK products such as zips, ball chains and Cosmolon (loop and hook tape or sheet). They sponsored my first catwalk show in 2000 until 2008, the year I officially became a consultant for YKK.
– What do you feel the YKK and Kei Kagami brands bring to each other?
We’ve established a long-lasting relationship and I guess during this period we’ve built some trust between us too. I personally have a lot of respect and appreciation for YKK, not only because of their financial support for my activity, but also as a company which always challenges and develops new products. I like this attitude, and it is what I am also trying to do in my own work.
– How did the London showroom project come about?
About 3 years ago, in 2013, project leader Mr Hitoshi Yamaguchi spoke to me about the idea of creating the first ever YKK showroom in the world. It’s surprising that in its 81-year history YKK never had an independent showroom before. So, of course, I encouraged him as I’ve always believed YKK should have a stand-alone space.
We agreed that London would be the right location because we both consider that the fashion education here is the best in the world, something we’ve learnt from the ITS fashion competition (which YKK is one of the main sponsors).
Soon after that, I researched on the number and location of fashion designers and their studios, fashion-related schools and shops, such as trimming and window display shops, as well as small factories and so on. From the result of my research, I advised YKK to establish its showroom in the Shoreditch area. During this time, Mr Yamaguchi and I talked about the image of YKK showroom and as YKK’s consultant, I made suggestions of how it should be, including its concept and story. Mr Yamaguchi later asked me if I would actually design the showroom. Considering myself only as an adviser for this project, I didn’t expect, to be honest, that I would have the opportunity to be involved as an architect. In fact, I was rather ready to introduce professional architects as I know quite a lot personally, including David Adjaye, who is, in my opinion, one of the best young architects… However, when he asked me, I simply replied him “yes, I can”. What a brave request, as despite having a degree in architecture, I am above all a fashion designer and not a professional architect. Anyway, I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to do architecture again.
– What was your inspiration for the design of this space?
In the concept stage, I initially asked the project leader Mr Yamaguchi for a rough image of the showroom he wanted. He just said “something of a metal image as metal is the main material used by YKK“. It became the only condition for me to go ahead, giving me a lot of creative freedom.
Having worked with YKK since 1998, I noticed that YKK had a complex image, a lot of people imagine it as a mostly industrial and conservative rather than fashionable or creative. YKK knew this and wanted to change it. But this situation inspired me with the core idea for the design of the showroom: “let’s stop trying to be fashionable”. What’s wrong with YKK’s industrial image? Let’s go back to our root or nature and be proud of it. Besides, I believe that London is a city which accepts spontaneity, rather than being pretentious, we have to be true to ourselves.
So, in conclusion, I decided to push the industrial look in the showroom. To create this image, the first inspiration which came up in my mind was a metal factory. Metal factories always have H beam frames and most typically, cranes and pulleys are hung or suspended from them. These places are, in my opinion, full of functional beauty. I also wanted to bring as many as possible movable details in the showroom as in metal factories.
The premises we found were originally a small cinema, so using the depth to create a strong perspective view, I decided to preserve this image of the theatre in an industrial space. I eventually named it the “industrial sanctuary” as, I actually realised with Japanese Nou and Kabuki stages too. It was important for me to bring an equilibrium in the senses, between the open space, high tension, movement and something organic which could balance the cold image of the metal. For example, I decided to use hot rolled mild metals whose surfaces are quite organic and oxidized all punched metal panels into a brownish rust.
– As both a fashion designer and an architect, how do you compare the two creative processes?
Well, I really hesitate to say that I am an architect as I left the field 25 years ago and this is the first of my architectural work which is actually built. However, having worked on both my own fashion collection and the showroom project at the same time, I would say there isn’t much of a difference in the processes of both fashion and architecture: I define the concept, story and image, then I design, draw and make (I actually made quite a lot of furniture and parts for the showroom). Both focus on realising works from the 2D to the 3D world and consist of “space and structure”.
– What do you think the YKK showroom will bring?
Obviously, the showroom is a great opportunity for YKK to introduce its wide range of fastening products to designers, students, manufactures and even, to the general public.
At the same time, it gives consumers the chance to discover lesser-known YKK products, not only zips but also other products such as snaps, buttons, etc.
Also, having worked on this project for 3 years, I would be very happy if this space could contribute to making people rediscover YKK and see it as the creative company that it really is.
Pictures: Kei Kagami and YKK