The term Concept Store was first used by Italian sociologist Francesco Morace in an article about the newly opened 10 Corso Como in which he wrote “Stores built around image are over; concept stores have begun”.When almost thirty years ago a then 43-years-old Carla Sozzani first opened the doors of 10 Corso Como in Milan following a career at the Italian editions of Elle and Vogue, not only did the term Concept Store did exist, but the very idea of shopping for high fashion anywhere outside Via Montenapoleone (Milan’s all-time fashion street) seemed very far away to the people. On top of being dislocated from the fashion district, 10 Corso Como was (and still is) nestled inside an inner courtyard, with no store window, natural lighting, and a concrete floor, in times when every store in Milan had marble floors and bright neon lamps: clients didn’t even understand they were supposed to go inside. It didn’t take long however before people got the memo – through word of mouth – and soon enough Sozzani saw her editor’s dream come true: a live magazine, combining art, fashion and luxury lifestyle, that people could actually experience first hand.
Because of their fashion DNA, New York, Paris and London were the first to follow Milan’s lead, opening Concept Stores which embodied the vibe and spirit of the city – de luxe in Paris, laid-back in New York and artsy in London – but for various reasons this innovative retail concept proved to be a match also for other cities. For example, the former industrial areas of Berlin offered perfect locations for ground-breaking Concept Stores, with rough interiors serving as ideal backdrop for the avant-guard creations and streetwear that the city is so fond of. Copenhagen and Stockholm, Scandinavian capitals of design, celebrated the Concept Store as the perfect blend between fashion, art and interiors – brands like Acne and Aaalto looked as sleek as ever set among the minimalism and warm woods of Northern-style decors. One of the main concerns of anyone wishing to open a concept store is the licensing: you often need to have multiple in order to serve food and drinks, sell clothes and run art shows all at the same time. Given the problematic shortage of houses and venues, Amsterdam has always been flexible in terms of permits and licensing, for this reason today the city is home to a multitude of Concept Stores, ranging from large shopping spots like Hutspot to romantic neighborhood hangouts like Cotton Cake. The cost of large locations in Italy’s larger and most fashion-oriented cities – Milan, Florence and Rome – has now made it pretty much impossible to open new Concept Stores and also the existing ones, including the famed 10 Corso Como, strive to keep things going. On the other hand though, towns scattered around the country are rich in terms of historical buildings, more accessible in terms of costs and perhaps even more hungry for fashion since large international labels seldom chose to open a flagship store in a small Italian city, especially the younger ones, who are already going strong on the catwalks and on all kinds of medias but still need to carefully plan their next openings.
Arezzo is a small Tuscan city located southeast of Florence, close enough to drive tourists from the all-time Italian Mecca but far enough to have its own identity. A charming, wealthy and conservative city, mostly known for its Middle Ages architecture and Renaissance art – The Medieval Piazza Grande, Piero della Francesca’s frescoes in St. Francis Basilica and the masterpiece collection of Casa Vasari just to name a few. Not exactly a fashion hotspot, nonetheless home to what legitimately prides itself of being the most beautiful Concept Store in the world: Sugar – brainchild of honorary president of the Italian Buying Chamber Beppe Angiolini, who has his roots in Arezzo. The store started of in the Eighties as a small boutique in Corso Italia, the city’s shopping street. People living in small, provincial cities are interested in fashion and in trends especially. They don’t always have access to fashion weeks and to large international fashion exhibitions, therefore they rely on magazines, social media, and on local retail, which today more than ever has to be able to offer something exceptional in order the beat its on-line competitors. Sugar was new, daring and bold: it changed the local idea of fashion for good, shook some dust off and added a tinge of international glamour to the 1500s churches and frescoes. Angiolini was still in his early twenties but Sugar was growing fast, getting larger and larger and stocking previously unseen brands. People started to come over from Florence, then from Pisa and Siena, and then from the rest of the country. Soon in Arezzo it became a thing to walk around the streets with the Sugar shopper. A boutique with a European flair, driven by a forward-thinking trendsetter, would have done marvels abroad, but Angiolini chose to stay and was soon rewarded with an affectionate and loyal clientele and with the status of local fashion hero. Today Sugar counts several locations around the city center devoted to all things fashion – from shopping to events. The main location is in Corso Italia 60, inside the Renaissance building Palazzo Lambardi.
Once belonging to the noble Lambardi family, the Palazzo is one of the few examples of civil architecture with a baroque style built in Arezzo. The current 18th century configuration of the building derives from the fusion of several court houses built between the 13th and the 15th century, enriched by an old-fashion garden. On the inside two mosaic floors once belonging to an Ancient Roman domus, show vestiges of the city’s history tracing back to its origins in the 1st century A.C.
The wooden ceilings and frescoes served as inspiration for the project of Vincenzo De Cotiis Architects, who led both the restoration of the building and the development the Concept Store. The entire intervention aimed at bringing back the historical memory of the building, revealing the old decors concealed by time and allowing the ancient walls and ceilings to resurface. Metal, marble, contemporary prints and led-screens contrast with the ancient structure, creating a harmonious dialogue between past and present. So the Valentino and Versace collections are sheltered by a 15th century frescoed ceiling, the Yves Saint Laurent frames an engraved fireplace, the Burberrys have a bare and artfully ruined wall as a backdrop while Balenciaga and Marni are magnified by a million or so mirrors. The ground street-level floor is dedicated to the more street side of the stock, featuring Off-White, R13, Undercover and all the sneakers. Coffee and cocktails are served at No Sugar Please, the onsite bar and cafeteria, while the top floor is now dedicated to hospitality, with 15 designer rooms with surprisingly accessible rates. Contemporary art and fashion publications are distributed all around the store, possibly the only distributor in Arezzo and in the entire province of Dazed, Kinfolk, Re-edition, Interview and WeAre, proving the original intention of both the store and its founder: educating, as well as selling.
Can a store change the appeal of a city? Sugar did not only added glamour and cool to Arezzo, it actually improved the local revenues. People follow the shop’s Instagram and then come from all over the world for the exclusive retail-experience. Not only fashion lovers, also the art crowd and design professional come to visit Sugar, drawn by the prestigious architecture and interiors. During the summer, Angiolini organized a charity fashion show in Arezzo, something that the small Tuscan city had never seen, with some of the store’s best pieces. More recently, Sugar celebrated the launch of Armani’s new handbag La Prima with an exclusive cocktail and gala. Angiolini still does the entire buying himself, inviting his most affectionate customers and international guests for previews and late-night fittings.
Corso Italia, 60, 52100 Arezzo AR